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John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought 



ARCHIVES INTERNATIONALES D’HISTOIRE DES IDEES 


INTERNATIONAL ARCHIVES OF THE HISTORY OF IDEAS 

193 

John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought 

edited by 

STEPHEN CLUCAS 


Founding Directors: 

P. Dibonf (Paris) and R.H. Popkinf (Washington University, St. Louis & UCLA) 

Director: 

Sarah Hutton (Middlesex University, United Kingdom) 
Associate-Directors: J.E. Force (Lexington); J.C. Laursen (Riverside) 

Editorial Board: M.J.B. Allen (Los Angeles); J.R. Armogathe (Paris); A. Gabbey (New York); 
T. Gregory (Rome); J. Henry (Edinburgh); J.D. North (Oxford); J. Popkin (Lexington); 
G.A.J. Rogers (Keele); Th. Yerbeek (Utrecht) 




John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in 
English Renaissance Thought 


edited by 

STEPHEN CLUCAS 

Birkbeck, University of London, U.K. 



Springer 



A C.I.P. Catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. 


ISBN-10 1-4020-4245-0 (HB) 

ISBN-13 978-1-4020-4245-4 (HB) 
ISBN-10 1-4020-4246-9 (e-book) 
ISBN-13 978-1-4020-4246-1 (e-book) 


Published by Springer, 

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Printed in the Netherlands. 



This book is dedicated to the memory of 
Robert O. Lenkiewicz (1941-2002) 
Painter, Researcher and Bibliophile. 


v 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 


Abbreviations ix 

List of Plates xi 

Notes on Contributors xv 

Introduction: Intellectual History and the 

Identity of John Dee 1 

1. Nicholas H. Clulee - John Dee’s Natural Philosophy 

Revisited 23 

PART ONE: ASTRONOMY AND ASTROLOGY 

2. Robert Goulding - Wings (or Stairs) to the 
Heavens: The Parallactic Treatises of John Dee 

and Thomas Digges 41 

3. Stephen Johnston - Like Father, Like Son? John Dee, 

Thomas Digges and the Identity of the Mathematician 65 

4. Richard Dunn - John Dee and Astrology in 

Elizabethan England 85 

PART TWO: DEE AND MARITIME AFFAIRS 

5. Robert Baldwin - John Dee’s Interest in the 
Application of Nautical Science, Mathematics and 

Law to English Naval Affairs 97 

6. William H. Sherman - John Dee’s Columbian Encounter 131 

PART THREE: DEE AND THE OCCULT SCIENCES 

7. Karen De Leon-Jones - John Dee and the Kabbalah 143 

8. Federico Cavallaro - The Alchemical Significance 

of John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica 159 

9. Jim Reeds - John Dee and the Magic Tables in 

the Book of Soyga 111 

PART FOUR: DEE’S CONVERSATION WITH ANGELS 

10. Gyorgy E. Szonyi - Paracelsus, Scrying and the Lingua Adamica: 

Contexts For John Dee’s Angel Magic 207 

11. Stephen Clucas - John Dee’s Angelic Conversations and 

the Ars Notoria : Renaissance Magic and Mediaeval Theurgy 231 

vii 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 


viii 


12. Deborah E. Harkness - The Nexus of Angelology, Eschatology 
and Natural Philosophy in John Dee’s Angel Conversations 

and Library 275 

PART FIVE: DEE AND KELLEY 

13. Susan Bassnett - Absent Presences: Edward Kelley’s 

Family in the Writings of John Dee 285 

14. Jan Backlund - In the Footsteps of Edward Kelley: 

Some Manuscript References at the Royal Library in 
Copenhagen Concerning an Alchemical Circle around John Dee 

and Edward Kelley 295 

PART SIX: LIBRARY CATALOGUE AND BIBLIOGRAPHY 

15. Julian Roberts - Additions and Corrections to “John Dee’s 

Library Catalogue” 333 

16. Stephen Clucas - Recent works on John Dee (1988-2005): 

A Select Bibliography 345 

Index 351 



ABBREVIATIONS 


Alae 


DNB 

JDEP 


Lib. Myst. 


MH 


MP 


NP 


Thomas Digges, Alae, seu Scalae Mathematicae, quibus 
visibilium remotissima Coelorum Theatra conscendi, & 
Planetarum omnium itinera nouis & inauditis Methodis 
explorari: turn huius portentosi Syderis in Mundi Boreali 
plaga insolito fulgore coruscantis. Distantia, & 
Magnitudo immensa, Situsque protinus tremendus 
indagari, Deique stupendum ostentum, Terricolis 
expositum cognosci liquidissime p os sit (London: 
Thomas Marsh, 1573). 

Dictionary of National Biography , ed. by Sidney Lee and 
Leslie Stephen, 22 vols (London, 1908). 

I.R.F. Calder, John Dee Studied as an English Neo- 
platonist, 2 vols (Unpublished PhD thesis, The Warburg 
Institute, University of London, 1952). 

John Dee, Liber Mysteriorum , London, British Library, 
Sloane MS 3188. 

Monas Hieroglyphica Ioannis Dee, Londinensis, ad 
Maximilianum, Dei Gratia Romanorum, Bohemiae et 
Hungariae Regem Sapientissimum (Antwerp: Gulielmus 
Silvius, 1564), facsimile edition of the Latin with facing 
page translation by C.H. Josten, Ambix , 12:2-3 (1964): 
82-221. 

The Elements of Geometric of the most auncient Philo¬ 
sopher EVCLIDE of Megara. Faithfully (now first) 
translated into the Englishe toung, by H. Billingsley, 
Citizen of London. Wherevnto are annexed certaine 
Scholies, Annotations, and Inuentions, of the best Mathe- 
maticiens, both of time past, and in this our age. With a 
very fruitfull Praeface made by M. I. Dee, specifying the 
chiefe Mathematicall Sciences, what they are, and 
wherunto commodious: where, also, are disclosed cer¬ 
taine new Secrets Mathematicall and Mechanicall, vntill 
these our daies, greatly missed (London: John Daye, 
1570). 

Nicholas H. Clulee, John Dee's Natural Philosophy: 
Between Science and Religion (London and New York: 
Routledge, 1988). 


IX 



ABBREVIATIONS 


x 


PA 


Parallaticae 


Private Diary 


R&W 

T&FR 


Wayne Shumaker and John L. Heilbron, eds. and trans. 
John Dee on Astronomy. Propaedeumata Aphoristica 
(1558 and 1568), Latin and English (Berkeley, Los 
Angeles and London: University of California Press, 
1978). 1 

John Dee, Parallaticae Commentationis Praxeosque 
Nucleus quidam (London: John Daye, 1573). 

The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee and the catalogue of his 
library of manuscripts, from the original manuscripts in the 
Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, and Trinity College 
Library, Cambridge, ed. James Orchard Halliwell (London, 
1842). 

Julian Roberts and Andrew Watson, John Dee’s Library 
Catalogue (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1990). 2 

A True & Faithful Relation of What passed for many 
Yeers Between Dr. John Dee (A Mathematician of Great 
Fame in Q. ELIZ. And King James their Reignes) and 
Some Spirits: Tending (had it Succeeded) To a General 
Alteration of most States and Kingdomes in the World. 
[etc], ed. Meric Casaubon (London: D. Maxwell for T. 
Garthwait, 1659). 


1 This edition conflates two separate editions of Dee’s Propaedeumata. These are: nPOTAIA'EYMATA 
A<DOPIXTIKA Ioannis Dee, Londinensis, de Praestantioribus quibusdam naturae virtutibus, ad 
Gerardum Mercatorem Rupelmundanum, Mathematicum et Philosophum insignem (London: Henry 
Sutton, 1558) and Propaedeumata Aphoristica Ioannis Dee, Londinensis, De Praestantioribus quibusdam 
Naturae Virtutibus (London: Reginald Wolf, 1568). All quotes, references and translations in this volume 
are taken from the Heilbron-Shumaker edition. 

2 Readers should note that where this abbreviation is followed by a number only (as “R&W, 13”, the 
reference is to a page-number in Roberts and Watson’s book. Where the abbreviation is followed by “no.” 
or “nos.” (as “R&W, no. 13”) the reference is to a catalogue number assigned by Roberts and Watson to 
an item in Dee’s Library catalogue. Lurther information regarding these items may be found by 
consulting the section of their book headed “Notes to the 1583 Catalogue” (R&W, 79 et seq.). 



LIST OF PLATES 


Plate 1: John Dee’s circumpolar chart, drawn in 1580. Reproduced by courtesy of 
the Burghley House Collection. 

p.102 

Plate 2: The Frontispiece of Dee’s General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the 
perfect Arte of Navigation (London, 1577). Reproduced courtesy of Durham 
University Library. 

p. 110 

Plate 3: A navigational chart of the North Atlantic, 1578. Drawn by William 
Borough, revised by Christopher Hall. Hatfield House CPM1/69. Reproduced by 
courtesy of the Marquess of Salisbury. 

p. 122 

Plate 4: The geometrical construction of Dee’s ‘Hieroglyphic Monad’, Monas 
Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564), p. 24 r . Reproduced from the facsimile edition of C. 
H. Josten, courtesy of Ambix. 

p. 160 

Plate 5: The ‘Hieroglyphic Monad’, Monas Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564), p. 25 r . 
Reproduced from the facsimile edition of C. H. Josten, courtesy of Ambix. 

p. 163 

Plate 6: The ‘Egg diagram’, Monas Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564), p. 17 r . 
Reproduced from the facsimile edition of C. H. Josten, courtesy of Ambix. 

p. 168 

Plate 7: The ‘artificial vessel’ (Vas artificiale) Monas Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 
1564), p. 22 r . Reproduced from the facsimile edition of C. H. Josten, courtesy of 
Ambix. 

p. 171 

Plate 8: The ‘Horizon iEtemitatis’ figure, Monas Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564), p. 
27 r . Reproduced from the facsimile edition of C. H. Josten, courtesy of Ambix. 

p. 173 

Plate 9: Book of Soyga, T1 Aries table. The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 
Bodley MS, 908, fol. 180 r . 

p. 181 

Plate 10: Book of Soyga , T1 Aries table. Department of Manuscripts, British Library, 
Sloane MS 8, fols. 102 v and 103 v . (By Permission of the British Library). 

p. 182 


xi 



Xll 


LIST OF PLATES 


Plate 11: Book of Enoch , equivalent of T1 ‘Aries’ Table. Department of 
Manuscripts, British Library, Sloane MS 3189, v fol. 58 . (By Permission of the 
British Library). 

p. 184 

Plate 12: Book of Enoch, non -Soyga, ‘Bapporgel bvrioldepnay’ table. Department of 
Manuscripts, British Library, Sloane MS 3189, v fol. 56 . (By Permission of the 
British Library). 

p. 198 

Plate 13: H. C. Agrippa von Nettesheim, De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres , 
‘Ziruph’ Table: III, 25, sig. y iii v . Reproduced courtesy of Robert O. Lenkiewicz. 

p. 200 

Plate 14: The ‘Sigillum Aemeth’ or ‘Sigillum Dei’ from John Dee’s Liber 
Mysteriorum , Department of Manuscripts, British Library, Sloane MS 3188, f. 30 r . 
(By permission of the British Library). 

p. 246 

Plate 15: A ‘Sigillum Dei’ from Dee’s own fourteenth-century copy of the Pseudo- 
Solomonic Liber Juratus [R & W, DM 70], Department of Manuscripts, British 
Library, Sloane MS 313, f. 4 r . (By permission of the British Library). 

p. 247 

Plate 16: Portrait of Elizabeth Jane Weston by an anonymous Dutch artist. 
Reproduced by courtesy of the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt. 

p. 289 

Plate 17: Edward Kelley’s ‘The praise of vniti for frendships sake’ (dated, 1589). 
Copenhagen, Royal Library MS, GKS 242, fol. 37 v . Reproduced by permission of 
the Royal Library, Copenhagen (Det Kongelige Bibliotek). 

p. 301 

Plate 18: Attribution of manuscript treatise to ‘M r John Tychebom’. Copenhagen, 
Royal Library MS, GKS 246, fol. l v . Reproduced by permission of the Royal 
Library, Copenhagen (Det Kongelige Bibliotek). 

p. 303 

Plate 19: Attribution of manuscript treatise to ‘Sir Edw[ard] K[elley].’ Copenhagen, 
Royal Library MS, GKS 246, fol. 6 r . Reproduced by permission of the Royal 
Library, Copenhagen (Det Kongelige Bibliotek). 

p. 304 

Plate 20: Attribution of manuscript treatise to ‘Iohannis Carpionis de Kaprstein’. 
Copenhagen, Royal Library MS 1723, fol. 20 v . Reproduced by permission of the 
Royal Library, Copenhagen (Det Kongelige Bibliotek). 


p. 305 



LIST OF PLATES 


xm 


Plate 21: Note concerning a Lullian manuscript owned by ‘D. Johanne[m] 
C[arpionem]’, Prague 1613. Copenhagen, Royal Library MS 1723, fol. 17 r 
Reproduced by permission of the Royal Library, Copenhagen (Det Kongelige 
Bibliotek). 


p. 307 



NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS 


Jan Backlund gained his PhD in Cultural Studies from Aarhus University, 
Denmark in 1992. He was research fellow at the Center for Cultural Reseach, 
Aarhus 1992-2002, and has been Associate Lector at the Department of Art theory at 
the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen since 2002. He has published a 
number of essays (in Danish) on art theory and related subjects, and is co-editor of a 
forth- coming volume on Art and Alchemy. 

Robert Baldwin has published widely in the history of navigation and maritime 
exploration. He has contributed extensively to exhibition planning for the Museum 
of London, the National Maritime Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civi¬ 
lisation. Since 1997 he has been working on a number of archival projects mostly 
related to civil engineering. Together with Sir Peter Baldwin he has edited The 
Motorway Achievement (2004) and Visions of Reconstruction, 1940-1948 (2005). 

Susan Bassnett is Professor in the Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural 
Studies at the University of Warwick. Recent publications include Sylvia Plath: An 
Introduction to the Poetry (2004), Constructing Cultures (1998) written with Andre 
Lefevere, and Post-Colonial Translation (1999), co-edited with Harish Trivedi. 
Besides her academic research, Susan Bassnett writes poetry. Her latest collection is 
Exchanging Lives (2002). 

Federico Cavallaro was bom in Rome in 1941. He studied Natural Science and 
then Theology and History of Religion. In 1986 he gained a PhD with a thesis on 
“Time, Planetary Symbols and the Journeys of the Soul”. Presently he is engaged in 
a study of alchemical symbolism in the Arthurian romances of Chretien de Troyes. 

Stephen Clucas is Senior Lecturer in English and Humanities at Birkbeck, 
University of London. He has published widely in the field of Early Modern 
intellectual history. Recent publications include The Wizard EarTs Advices to his 
Son (2002) and A Princely Brave Woman: Essays on Margaret Cavendish, Duchess 
of Newcastle (2003). He is currently editing Thomas Hobbes’s De Corpore (with 
Timothy J. Raylor) for the Clarendon Edition of Hobbes. 

Nicholas H. Clulee is currently professor and chair of history at Frostburg State 
University in Frostburg, Maryland, and studied at Hobart College and the University 
of Chicago. He is author of John Dee's Natural Philosophy: Between Science 
and Religion (1988). 

Karen de Leon-Jones is currently an independent scholar in Religious Studies. 
Formerly she was a member of research institutes in the Centre National de 
Recherche Scientifique and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris. She is 
author of Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalah (1997), as well as other publications on 
Kabbalah and spirituality in Early Modern thought. She contributes to the Pico Pro- 


xv 



XVI 


NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS 


ject, a joint collaboration between Brown University and L’Universita di Bologna; 
as well as collaborating on theatre productions and conferences. 

Richard Dunn completed his doctoral thesis “The Status of Astrology in 
Elizabethan England” at the University of Cambridge in 1992. He is currently 
Curator of the History of Navigation at the National Maritime Museum. 

Robert Goulding is assistant professor in the Program in History and Philosophy of 
Science at the University of Notre Dame. His research interests include the history 
of optics and the history of magic. He is currently completing a monograph on 
Renaissance histories of mathematics. 

Deborah E. Harkness is associate professor of history at the University of Southern 
California. She is the author of John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, 
Alchemy, and the End of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 1999) and is currently 
completing a study of science, medicine, and technology in Elizabethan London for 
Yale University Press entitled The Jewel House of Art and Nature: Elizabethan 
London and the Social Foundations of the Scientific Revolution. 

Stephen Johnston is Assistant Keeper at the Museum of the History of Science, 
University of Oxford. He researches and teaches the history of scientific instruments 
and has published on sixteenth-century mathematical practitioners and nineteenth- 
century calculation. He has also co-authored The Geometry of War, 1500-1750 
(Oxford, 1996) and Solomon’s House in Oxford: New Finds from the First Museum 
(Oxford, 2000), and was associate editor of Instruments of Science: an Historical 
Encyclopedia (New York, 1998). 

Jim Reeds is a professional cryptographer with an interest in the history of his 
subject. He has published on the solution to the cipher in Book III of Johannes 
Trithemius’s Steganographia (Cryptologia , 1998) and on the Voynich Manuscript. 
He lives in Princeton, New Jersey. 

Julian Roberts retired in 1997 as Deputy Librarian of the Bodleian Library Oxford, 
and is an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College. Apart from his joint-editorship of 
John Dee’s Library Catalogue (1990) he has published other articles on Dee and on 
the history of the English book-trade and the history of libraries. 

William H. Sherman is Professor of English and Co-Director of the Centre for 
Renaissance and Early Modem Studies at the University of York, and Associate 
Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly. He is the author of John Dee: The Politics of 
Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance (1995) and of articles on 
Renaissance drama, Elizabethan travel writing, and the history of reading; and the 
editor of several plays and essay collections. 

Gy orgy E. Szonyi is the director of the Institute of English at the University of 
Szeged, Hungary. He is a cultural- and literary historian with special interest in the 
Renaissance, the role of the occult in early modern culture and contemporary 
literature and in cultural theory, especially the relationship of words and images. 



NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS 


xvii 


Recent publications include: Gli Angeli di John Dee (Rome: Tre Editori, 2004); 
Pictura & Scriptura (in Hungarian, Szeged, 2004); John Dees Occultism: Magical 
Exaltation Through Powerful Signs (Albany: SUNY Press, 2005). He has also edited 
among others: European Iconography East & West (Leiden, 1996); The 
Iconography of Power (with R. Wymer, Szeged, 2000); The Iconography of the 
Fantastic (with A. Kiss and M. Baroti-Gaal, Szeged, 2002). 



STEPHEN CLUCAS 


INTRODUCTION 


Intellectual History and the Identity of John Dee 


In April 1995, at Birkbeck College, University of London, an interdisciplinary 
colloquium was held so that scholars from diverse fields and areas of expertise could 
exchange views on the life and work of John Dee. 1 Working in a variety of fields - 
intellectual history, history of navigation, history of medicine, history of science, 
history of mathematics, bibliography and manuscript studies - we had all been drawn to 
Dee by particular aspects of his work, and participating in the colloquium was to con¬ 
front other narratives about Dee’s career: an experience which was both bewildering 
and instructive. Perhaps more than any other intellectual figure of the English 
Renaissance Dee has been fragmented and dispersed across numerous disciplines, and 
the various attempts to re-integrate his multiplied image by reference to a particular 
world-view or philosophical outlook have failed to bring him into focus. This volume 
records the diversity of scholarly approaches to John Dee which have emerged since the 
synthetic accounts of I.R.F. Calder, Frances Yates and Peter French. If these 
approaches have not succeeded in resolving the problematic multiplicity of Dee’s 
activities, they will at least deepen our understanding of specific and local areas of his 
intellectual life, and render them more historiographically legible. 

JOHN DEE AND INTELLECTUAL HISTORY 

The life and work of John Dee first re-emerged into twentieth-century historical 
consciousness in the works of historians of science, who strove to “recover” Dee from 
the oblivion of his reputation as an occultist, and to reinstate him as a “progressive” 
Renaissance scientist, whose work contributed to the fitful beginnings of the scientific 
revolution in England. In the 1930s E. G. R. Taylor’s Tudor Geography 1483-1583 , 
and Francis Johnson’s Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England both allotted a 
significant role to Dee in their narratives of Tudor scientific advancement. 2 Johnson saw 
Dee’s achievement as primarily “scientific” - he was, according to Johnson, “the 
leading mathematical scientist in England and the most influential teacher and adviser 
in that field after [Robert] Recorde’s death.” 3 Johnson viewed Dee’s occult scientific 
activities as a detraction from his scientific reputation: 

Dee’s later career, during which his unrestrained optimism concerning the possibilities of 
natural science made him a dupe of the charlatan Edward Kelley and caused him to turn his 
energies to alchemy and crystal gazing, has tended to obscure his real merit as a scientist 
and his very great services to his country. 4 


1 

S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, 1-22. 
© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



2 


S. CLUCAS 


Johnson criticised Charlotte Fell-Smith for having “emphasized his reputation as an 
astrologer, alchemist and dabbler in spiritualism at the expense of his significant work 
in legitimate science,” and accordingly praised Taylor for having given a “truer picture 
of the man”. 5 Taylor for her part shared Johnson’s need to expunge or explain away 
Dee’s occult interests: 

The fact that John Dee was a practitioner of Judicial Astrology has, however, created such a 
prejudice against him, and has led to such a one-sided estimate of his place in history, that it 
is here necessary to state emphatically that a close examination of the evidence leaves no 
doubt of his intellectual honesty and genuine patriotism [...] his preoccupation with the 
search for the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life lent urgency to his desire for a 
discovery of the way to Cathay, since it has been a constant tradition that Initiates and 
adepts are to be found among the learned men of the Far East. That such was the case, 
nevertheless, does not detract from the value of his geographical studies or his geographical 
teaching. 6 

If Taylor seems to harbour a suspicion that occult interests were intellectually 
dishonest and unpatriotic she was at least able to concede that Dee’s occult interests 
were a motivating force in his career, although in seeking to mitigate them it is clear 
that her sense of Dee’s “value” is dictated by early twentieth-century norms of what 
constituted legitimate forms of knowledge. The fame of Taylor’s Dee rests on the fact 
that he was a mathematician, a cartographer, the promoter of Gemma Frisius’s globes 
and instruments in England, and the friend and intimate of Gerard Mercator. 7 The fact 
that Mercator shared and encouraged Dee’s astrological interests is noted, but only in so 
far as Dee’s “suspect” occultism can be palliated by the reflected glory of Mercator: 

The high character of Mercator alone should be sufficient to acquit Dee of the charges of 
sorcery and conjuring - interpreted today as charlatanism - brought against him by the 
fanatical English mob, a charge which he frequently and earnestly repudiated. 8 

If the great Mercator was interested in astrology the implication seems to be, then 
Dee could too, and the guarantee of Mercator’s scientific reputation is mysteriously 
used to endorse the idea that Dee’s reputation for magic was a malicious invention. In a 
series of books and articles in the 1950s Taylor continued her “recovery” of Dee from 
charges of charlatanism. In her biographical entry on Dee in The Mathematical 
Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England , for example, she presented Dee as 
essentially a practical scientific figure. “The practical applications of astronomy and 
geometry were foremost in his mind”, she said, “whether for casting nativities or 
advancing navigation, for reforming the calendar or mapping subterranean mines.” 9 
Although she characterises him as an “astrological expert”, Taylor takes pains to point 
out elsewhere that he “accepted the Copemican hypothesis.” 10 In her 1955 article “John 
Dee and the Nautical Triangle, 1575”, Taylor is more explicit, complaining that 
historians had “treated him slightingly, dubbing him astrologer and alchemist, by which 
words they understand ‘charlatan’.” In their characterisation of Dee as a “servile and 
ignoble figure”, she says, “the acclaimed mathematician and ever-ready instructor are 
forgotten.” While she accepts the reality of Dee’s interests in alchemy, astrology and 
what she calls “crystal-gazing”, “by this date”, she says, “his work on navigation had 
come to an end.” 11 Taylor then constructs a Dee who is internally contradictory (“Dee’s 
imagination often predominated over his science - but science he had”) but whose 
career could be neatly divided into the legitimate and scientific navigator (whose 
navigational works are said to have “foreshadowed” the “modem Nautical manual”) 



INTRODUCTION 


3 


and the illegitimate and imaginative “crystal-gazer”. 12 Curiously while Taylor was able 
to accept the historical specificity of Dee’s thought in some areas (his Great and Rich 
Discoveries , she argued, was important because it provided “direct and detailed 
evidence of how an Elizabethan cosmographer went to work”), she was openly 
contemptuous of his later career, when he was (as she puts it) “overseas chasing the will 
o’ the wisps of alchemy and crystal-gazing in Prague”. 13 For Taylor “cosmography” 
seems to have more historical importance than alchemy and “crystal-gazing”, although 
they were all significant parts of Dee’s own sense of his intellectual activities. 

While one could dismiss the lack of attention to the “occult” side of Dee in Taylor’s 
work as simply peripheral to her historical concerns, Taylor’s own repeated pro¬ 
testations and apologetic references to Dee’s occult interests marks a significant point 
of historiographical tension. This tension turns upon the problematic question of how 
the occult sciences (or “occult philosophy”) fit into the field of knowledge in the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a question which current discussions of the nature 
of the Scientific Revolution are doing little to address. Taylor’s approach is not 
dissimilar in many respects from that of Brian Vickers, who in his introductory essay to 
Occult and Scientific Mentalities argued that the occult was radically distinct from the 
scientific and should be studied and considered separately from the development of 
scientific thought. 14 Taylor, of course, was writing at a time when the history of alchemy, 
astrology and magic had not yet gained the credence which it has today, and her failure 
of historical imagination is in large part due to the historiographical climate in which 
she was writing. 

It was in the 1950s, in fact (some time between the publication of Taylor’s Tudor 
Geography and her Mathematical Practitioners) that the first major advances in the 
historiography of the occult sciences took place in Anglo-American scholarship, and 
with this the historical significance of Dee took on a new prominence. 15 In 1952,1. R. F. 
Calder, working under the supervision of Frances A. Yates at the Warburg Institute 
made probably one of the most significant single contributions to Dee studies in the 
imposing shape of his sadly unpublished two volume PhD thesis “John Dee studied as 
an English Neoplatonist.” 16 In its courageous attempt to survey the whole of Dee’s 
intellectual output, Calder rescued Dee from the narrow confines of the illuminating but 
partial accounts of Taylor and Johnson, and revealed the full historical complexity of 
Dee’s work. For the first time Dee’s occult philosophical interests - his interests in 
astrology, alchemy, and the cabala, the influence of Roger Bacon and Alkindi, the 
Pythagorean mysticism of the Monas Hieroglyphica , the neoplatonic aspects of the 
Mathematicall Praeface , and even the angelic conversations - received a sympathetic 
and objective historical examination. The strength of Calder’s thesis was, however, also 
one of its weaknesses - in his determination to present Dee as a typical figure, he was 
profoundly influenced by a particular thesis: that of Edwin Burtt, who had argued that 
neoplatonic metaphysics had played a significant, albeit unrecognised, role in the 
development of modem science. 17 Calder’s main aim was thus to to show that 

Dee may properly be considered a typical, though outstanding, example and exponent 
of sixteenth century English scientific neoplatonism - a movement which made a 
significant, if somewhat neglected, contribution to later and more generally appreciated 
development in science and philosophy. 18 



4 


S. CLUCAS 


It is clear from Calder’s preface to his thesis that his handling of Dee had been 
influenced by his discussions with both Yates and D. P. Walker. It is difficult to 
divine who was the originator of this interpretation, Yates, or Walker, or Calder 
himself, but what is certain is that Calder’s “neoplatonic” Dee was taken up by his 
supervisor, and another of her students Peter J. French and developed into an even 
more influential interpretation, that of Dee as an “Elizabethan Hermetic Magus”. 19 

In her influential 1964 study of the “Hermetic Tradition” (a Renaissance synthesis 
of neoplatonic, pythagorean and cabalistic themes putatively catalysed by Marsilio 
Ficino’s translations of the Corpus Hermeticum , and the syncretistic philosophy of Pico 
della Mirandola), Yates argued that: 

John Dee has to the full the dignity, the sense of operational power, of the Renaissance 
Magus. And he is a very clear example of how the will to operate, stimulated by 

Renaissance magic, could pass into, and stimulate, the will to operate in genuine applied 

20 

science. 

While she retains the Burttian flavour of Calder’s Dee (the stimulation of “genuine 
applied science” by Neoplatonism), Yates subtly moulded him into a representative of 
her own “Hermetic tradition” whose representative figure was the “Renaissance 
magus”. This becomes even clearer in her 1967 essay “The Hermetic Tradition in 
Renaissance Science”: 

John Dee seems obviously placeable historically as a Renaissance magus of the later 
Rosicrucian type. Paracelsist and alchemist, a practical scientist who wished to develop 
applied mathematics for the advantage of his countrymen, full of schemes for the 
advancement of learning [...]. 21 

Peter J. French who worked closely with Yates while he was in England researching 
his study of Dee, 22 developed Yates’s thumbnail sketches into a book-length study in 
his John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus , published in 1972. While French’s 
study is sensitive to the interdisciplinary range of Dee’s activities, 23 and touches upon 
his activities as “Philosopher, mathematician, technologist, antiquarian, teacher and 
friend of powerful people”, it is the idea of Dee as “Elizabethan magus” which is the 
dominant idea of his book. Dee, French argued, was “a magician deeply immersed in 
the most extreme forms of occultism: he was Elizabethan England’s great magus [...] 
one of a line of philosopher-magicians” who “lived in a world [which was] half 
magical, half scientific.” 24 Hermeticism, French argued, that is to say “the gnostic 
philosophy based on the rediscovered texts of the legendary Hermes Trismegistus,” was 
“basic to Dee’s thought,” and “pervaded his natural magic, his science and his 
religion.” 25 While French is aware of the diversity of Dee’s activities, ultimately he 
produces a homogeneous vision of Dee where, for example, his mathematics, 
architecture, navigation and technology are “all part of a broader magically oriented 
philosophy.” 26 Dee’s “science and magic, his art and even his antiquarianism,” French 
argued, “all form part of a universal vision of the world as a continuous and harmonious 
unity.” 27 In short, John Dee was “totally in the Hermetic tradition” as it had been 
conceived by Frances Yates. 28 The closeness of French’s and Yates’s ideas on Dee 
extends at points to direct verbal echoes, as we can see from the following two 
quotations: 



INTRODUCTION 


5 


Although his experiments in theurgy are regarded as pointless endeavours today, he saw 
them as a means of pursuing science at a higher level. 29 

What Dee wanted to leam from the angels was the secrets of nature; it was a way of 
prosecuting science on a higher level. 30 

The historiographical apogee of the Yatesian “Hermetic magus” however was 
relatively short-lived. In 1974 Robert S. Westman gave a paper at the Clark Memorial 
Library, in which he roundly criticised Yates’s contention that there was an occult 
philosophical impetus behind the Copemicanism of Dee and Giordano Bruno. 31 
Westman cites at length from a passage in Peter French’s book which argues that Dee 
embraced the Copemican hypothesis, and that this “scientific advance” was “spurred by 
the renewed interest in the magical Hermetic religion of the world.” This passage is (not 
unfairly) taken to be “entirely characteristic of the Yatesian mode of analysis.” 32 While 
Westman concedes that Dee had praised Copernicus’s labours in “reforming the 
celestial discipline” (in coelesti disciplina restauranda) in his preface to John Feild’s 
Ephemeris for the Year 1557, and made use of Erasmus Reinhold’s Prutenic Tables in 
his manuscript treatise on the reform of the calendar, he refuses to accept that this 
constitutes proof that he was a Copemican. In fact, Westman goes on to argue, 
“wherever Dee had the opportunity to assert his belief in the reality of Copernicus’s 
theory, he did not do so.” 33 Westman also rejects the supposed Hermetic interest which 
Dee took in Copemican theory (what French calls his “spiritual affinity with helio- 
centricity”), pointing to the absence of Hermetic references in Dee’s private marginalia 
to Paulus Cmsius’s Instructions Concerning the Equal and Apparent Revolutions of the 
Sun (Jena, 1567) as proof of his claims. While Westman ignores the Neoplatonic 
emphasis in the collection of quotations on the sun which Dee collects at the back of his 
copy of Cmsius (there is a quote from Plato’s Timaeus , and a quote from one of the 
Orphic hymns), he is probably correct in suggesting that Dee’s views on Copernicus, 
far from being “Hermetic”, “fall into the same pattern of reading the Copemican theory 
that we find among almost all university astronomers of the period.” Dee, he argued, 
“had no need of a heliocentric system, whether magical or astronomical”. 34 Westman’s 
conclusions are aggressive, if not unfair: firstly he believes that Yates’s (and French’s) 
claims about a “Hermetic reform” in Copemicanism is fundamentally flawed. “Not a 
single leading thinker included by Dr Yates in the Hermetic tradition interpreted the 
Copemican theory as a magical symbol or made it the operational basis of a system of 
magical forces.” There was, in any case, “no single ‘Hermetic interpretation’” of the 
Copemican theory, but a “diversity of responses”. 35 “Hermetic” thinkers, he argued, 
reflected rather than initiated Copemican advances, and while Giordano Bmno’s 
cosmological innovations were grounds for allowing the Hermetic tradition a “modest 
supporting role” in scientific advances, he does not agree that the magical worldview 
was “responsible for spurring these conceptualizations”. 36 In Westman’s view, the 
“significant physical and mathematical insights Bmno and other alleged Hermeticists 
arrived at came from their individual, creative intuitions, often under the influence of 
doctrines first formulated in mediaeval natural philosophy, and in spite of their 
adherence to Hermetic doctrines.” There was, in fact, no evidence for a general thesis 
concerning the influence of “magic” on “science”. 37 



6 


S. CLUCAS 


Another, even more unsympathetic response from the history of science lobby came 
in 1978, when John Heilbron, in his introduction to the edition and translation of Dee’s 
Propaedeumata aphoristica (which he co-edited with Wayne Shumaker) assessed 
Dee’s intellectual activities in terms which make it clear that he - like Westman - 
rejected the Burttian interpretation of the Scientific revolution promoted by Calder, 
Yates and French. Whilst affecting to give a balanced picture of Dee’s career Heilbron 
barely disguises his antipathy towards the occult side of Dee’s activities, characterising 
his career as “a continuous progress toward the occult and the irrational.” Dee’s 
mathematics he argued, “did not grow from or together with his occultism,” as Yates 
and French had argued, “but, rather, preceded it, and [...] in so far as he devoted himself 
to occult studies he moved off the high road of the scientific revolution.” 38 Heilbron 
identifies Dee’s mathematical career as a turning away from “hard headed” and 
“technical” mathematics towards that of “Platonizing philosophies”, the province of 
“circle squarers and [...] fuzzy-minded astrologers.” 39 Heilbron utterly rejects what he 
scathingly calls Dee’s “chats with angels”, and sees his work on calendrical reform, 
presented to Queen Elizabeth in 1582 as “his last tract of any scientific importance.” 40 
Although Heilbron acknowledges that Dee’s contemporaries had a high opinion of his 
mathematical abilities, he finds this reputation “easier to ascertain than its basis.” 41 
While Dee’s Praeface had been extolled by Calder, Yates and French as a triumph of 
neoplatonic scholarship, Heilbron criticises it for its inclusion of unorthodox 
mathematical sciences - which he sneeringly refers to as “jabberwocky disciplines” 42 - 
such as “thaumaturgike”, which Heilbron dismisses as a confection of “the thousand 
amusing, silly, practical, or useless things set forth in the books of Giammbattista della 
Porta, Athanasius Kircher, Gaspar Schott, and Francesco Lana.” 43 In the light of these 
observations Heilbron felt that Dee deserved only “a modest place in the intellectual 
history of Tudor England.” 44 For Heilbron Dee’s occultism was an obstacle, and not a 
stimulus to scientific endeavour diverting Renaissance “scientists” from “investigations 
of the ordinary and the regular” into fanciful mystical speculations. 45 What is at stake in 
Heilbron’s account of Dee is a certain conception of the Scientific Revolution which 
radically excludes the occult sciences as “non-scientific”. This begs the question, of 
course, of why Heilbron felt drawn to edit Dee’s Propaedeumata at all. The answer 
would seem to be that Heilbron was only able to countenance the Propaedeumata by 
denaturing it. Ignoring the cabalistic, astrological and magical themes of the work and 
focussing on Dee’s grappling with the problems of the measurement of planetary 
distances and motions, Heilbron presents the Propaedeumata as “a fully intelligible 
series of recipes for applying arithmetic and geometry to a standard scholastic physics 
and astronomy.” 46 Dee’s primary source for the idea of stellar radiation, Al-Kindi’s De 
radiis (a work which often bore the subtitle “seu theorica magica” in manuscript) is 
likewise misleadingly described as “a straightforward determinist astrology” which 
“urged its merits as a mathematical science, and grounded it physically in the interplay 
of radiations continually [...] pouring out of celestial bodies,” 47 which ignores, for 
example, Al-Kindi’s radiative theories of incantational, talismanic and sacrificial magic. 

In his introduction to his 1975 edition of Dee’s Mathematical Praeface the 
renowned historian of Paracelsianism and the “chemical philosophy”, Allen G. Debus 
steered a difficult course between the Yatesian view of Dee and more traditional views 



INTRODUCTION 


7 


of Dee’s Praeface (such as that of E. G. R. Taylor) which saw it as a precursor of a 
modem scientific outlook. Debus cautioned against views which took Dee’s concept of 
scientia experimentalis as a precursor of the “modem controlled experiment”, 48 and 
cautioned against the sanguinity of those who might be tempted to view his 
championing of “applied” mathematics in the Praeface as a “modem” scientific 
tendency. “Any [modem] definition of mathematics”, Debus observed, “would be 
insufficient to encompass Dee’s approach to the subject,” which embraced “a 
mathematical spectmm that ranged from the study of navigation and mechanics to 
mysticism.” 49 The “revised interpretations” of Yates and French, he felt, had gone “too 
far in their claims for Dee as a scientific prophet”. The alchemical and cabalistic 
mysteries of the Monas Hieroglyphica , he pointed out, had been far more “influential” 
than the supposedly scientifically progressive Mathematicall Praeface , and the vagaries 
of his reputation should sound a note of caution, he said, to “those who might wish to 
interpret the Scientific Revolution simply as the growth of positive knowledge 
accompanied by an almost inevitable decay of the pseudo-sciences.” 50 

Probably the most important breakthrough in Dee studies in the aftermath of the 
Yates thesis was made by Debus’s student Nicholas H. Clulee, who in his 1973 
doctoral thesis and in a series of articles in the late seventies and early eighties began to 
formulate a view of Dee which radically questioned the Yates-French version of Dee 
without trivalising the importance of his occult scientific outlook. 51 This culminated in 
the publication of his groundbreaking study John Dee’s Natural Philosophy: Between 
Magic, Science and Religion in 1988, which was a watershed for the study of Dee’s 
natural philosophy. Breaking free of the “Hermetic Dee” of Yates and French, Clulee 
provided a new, and more plausible, set of contexts for Dee’s natural philosophy, and 
rather than treating Dee’s career as a homogeneous worldview, sought to trace a 
discrete intellectual development, moving from an early phase of eclectic Aristo- 
telianism (albeit augmented by his readings in mediaeval perspectiva ) at the time he 
was writing the Propaedeumata aphoristica, 52 to his later essentially religious 
orientation in the angelic conversations which - in Clulee’s view - were “antithetical to 
science as both empirical investigation and rational inquiry.” 53 

We are fortunate indeed to have in this volume a retrospective survey of Dee studies 
by Nicholas Clulee, from the vantage-point afforded by the 1995 conference. As a key 
figure in the intellectual historical understanding of Dee, he is in a unique position to 
chart the changing fortunes of Dee as an object of historical inquiry. Clulee revisits the 
critique of the “Warburg interpretation” of Dee, but this time he places it the context of 
the changing historiography of the history of science as a discipline. The emergence of 
the “Warburg” Dee, Clulee points out, was conditioned by the emergence of the 
“Scientific Revolution” as a concept. Clulee shows how recent reappraisals of this 
powerful concept, or “master-narrative”, have opened the way for different under¬ 
standings of Dee’s place in the period. Clulee sees recent contexualist approaches to 
early modem science (such as that proposed by John Schuster) as providing more scope 
for the study of figures like Dee who do not really fit the Scientific Revolution 
narrative. If our focus on the natural philosophers of the sixteenth century is not 
orientated towards the culmen of the seventeenth-century “heroes” (Galileo, Boyle, 
Newton), but instead towards the “contingencies of the process of change in natural 



8 


S. CLUCAS 


philosophy” in the “Scientific Renaissance” itself, then we can begin to understand the 
achievements of the period for their own sake, and not simply as stages on the way to 
the Scientific Revolution. Of equal importance to this historiographical “positioning” of 
Dee studies are Clulee’s proleptic remarks on future possibilities for Dee studies. His 
call for “rethinking the Dee canon” is a timely one, and while some of the directions 
which he indicates in this essay have already begun to come to pass (Clulee’s own 
recent essay on Dee and Paracelsianism, for example, or Steven vanden Broecke’s 
study of Dee’s natural philosophy in the context of the community of mathematical 
practitioners in Louvain), the broad outlines of his suggestions remain pertinent for the 
study of Dee in the forthcoming decades. 54 

Clulee’s essay also highlights the singular importance for Dee studies of the work of 
Julian Roberts and Andrew Watson. The publication in 1990 of John Dee's Library 
Catalogue marked a significant watershed for our understanding of Dee’s intellectual 
life. 55 In addition to providing an invaluable finding-list of the extant volumes once 
owned by John Dee, including notices of marginalia and other inscriptions, this volume 
also includes vital new historical information about the growth of Dee’s private library 
- an invaluable resource for the historian attempting to trace the development of Dee’s 
intellectual and practical interests. In recording the locations of the books and 
manuscripts which Dee owned and annotated, Roberts and Watson have given Dee 
scholars a whole new body of evidence to assess beside his established oeuvre of 
manuscript and printed works. This work, as Clulee says, is “a touchstone for almost all 
future work on Dee” 56 ‘Because we have [... this] record of his library [...] and many 
existing copies of his books with his annotations can be identified,” Clulee says, “the 
possibilities of doing a cultural history of his intellectual life are particularly rich.” 57 

Two recent examples of Dee scholarship attest to the accuracy of this statement. 
Detailed knowledge of Dee’s library and close attention to his marginalia, for example, 
play a vital role in William H. Sherman’s important study John Dee: The Politics of 
Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance (1995). “Dee’s extensive 
marginalia”, Sherman argued, had “disappeared from our intellectual map of the 
Renaissance”, before the work of Clulee, Roberts and Watson. Sherman is emphatic 
about the importance of this newly rediscovered evidence: “However messy, modest, 
and (as it were) marginal they at first appear, it is no exaggeration to say that Dee’s 
marginalia are central to the recovery of his intellectual activities, and [...] his role in 
society.” 58 The new kinds of evidence which marginalia provide are an important part 
of Sherman’s radical reappraisal of Dee’s intellectual activities. Deliberately eschewing 
the post-Yatesian focus on Dee’s occult philosophical interests, Sherman sought to 
bring to light Dee’s role as a courtly advisor and political intelligencer. Sherman’s 
approach stresses Dee’s “scholarly mediation between a body of knowledge (England’s 
administrative, fiscal and military strengths and weaknesses) and a body of political 
readers (an elite group of government officials).” 59 That is to say, he looks at Dee as an 
“intelligencer”, and focuses on his contributions to what he calls his “political science”. 
This focus is both timely and salutary. Intellectual historians have in the past been 
content to deal with intellectual figures of the past as if their work existed in a timeless 
and transcendent realm of “pure” thought. Sherman tries to reposition Dee, and his 
intellectual labours, within a concrete social and political context. In emphasising the 



INTRODUCTION 


9 


courtly, political aspects of Dee’s career, Sherman does not so much seek to obliterate 
the “occult” or philosophical Dee so much as to present another facet of Dee’s work. 
He does not “claim to present ‘the whole Dee’”, but rather to “offer [...] a range of 
perspectives which have not figured in previous pictures of the whole Dee.” 60 Sherman 
focused on the court patronage enjoyed by Dee and his undertaking of a variety of 
intellectual services in the service of Queen Elizabeth and various courtiers. His work 
on Dee’s role in Elizabethan maritime enterprises in particular have added a whole side 
to Dee’s work which had previously been neglected in Dee studies. Sherman argued 
that a close scrutiny of Dee’s manuscript works “cast serious doubts on the packaging 
of Dee as - exclusively or even primarily - a Hermetic Neoplatonic magus”. The 
“many traces of [Dee’s] non-magical activities,” he suggested, had been systematically 
“played down or left out altogether” in previous accounts of Dee’s career. 61 While one 
might want to qualify Sherman’s compensatory secularisation of Dee, 62 his recovery of 
a “lost Dee” of political intelligence and policy has vitally enriched our understanding 
both of Dee’s own activities and of the historical and socio-political specificity of 
English Renaissance intellectual life in general. 

The “occult” side of Dee’s career came to the fore once again in the work of 
Deborah E. Harkness, although she took her cues far more from the natural philo¬ 
sophical Dee of Clulee than the Hermetic magus of Frances Yates and Peter French. 
Like Clulee, Harkness wrote her PhD thesis on Dee, 63 and published significant articles 
on the angelic conversations 64 and Dee’s scientific household, 65 prior to the publication 
of her book John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of 
Nature in 1999. 66 The first book-length study of Dee’s dealings with the angels, 
Harkness’s historically sensitive account of the angelic conversations emphasised the 
ways in which Dee’s library informed his understanding of what he assumed were 
communications from angels - providing him with corroboration for what Kelley was 
relating to him, or with grounds for disputing and questioning some aspects of the 
narratives. In particular Harkness stresses the role of works on angelology, Christian 
cabala, and alchemy, which helped Dee “to formulate his own Christian natural 
philosophy.” 67 Harkness also indicates the ways in which Dee’s post-1583 career 
constitutes a continuation rather than an abrupt break with the natural philosophical, 
mathematical, astronomical and alchemical interests of the 1550s, 60s and 70s. 
Harkness describes Dee’s angelic conversations as “Dee’s last universal science”, 
which was “an attempt to provide a universal basis for natural philosophy [... which] 
sought to unify and make coherent all religious beliefs, natural knowledge and ancient 
theory.” 68 It is precisely this attempt at unifying different forms of knowledge which has 
made Dee such a challenging and important figure for Renaissance intellectual 
historians. If in the past Dee’s incongruence with modem disciplinary frameworks 
made him (or particular aspects of his work) marginal to many scholars, increasingly 
his perceived disciplinary incongruity is being seen as a symptom of the unique ways in 
which Renaissance thought and practices were constituted, rather than as problematic or 
anomalous. With the growing realisation that interdisciplinary approaches are vital for 
a fuller understanding of the structures of Renaissance thought or mentalities, figures 
like Dee are becoming more important for us to understand. Increasingly Dee’s 
“problematic” career has been explained, rather than explained away. 



10 


S. CLUCAS 


DEE AND INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES 

The subtitle of the present volume, “interdisciplinary studies in English Renaissance 
thought” is motivated by a profound conviction that when studying intellectual 
formations of the early modem period interdisciplinarity is not simply a fashionable 
methodological option, or theoretical reflex, but a historiographical necessity. The 
history of Dee studies has been a history of disciplinary confusions and antagonisms. In 
order to understand the multiplicity and complexity of Dee’s practises and beliefs 
requires a purposeful suspension of the epistemological categories of contemporary 
disciplines in order that we can understand the epistemological matrix which allowed 
the co-existence of what are now often perceived to be contradictory or mutually 
exclusive elements. 

Dee himself seems to have consciously avoided disciplinary specialisation. In a 
letter written by Dee’s son Arthur in 1649, in response to biographical queries about his 
father’s life, we hear that Dee “was a generall Scholler and would neuer take the degree 
of D[octor]r, allthough he was generally styled so [...] he neuer would take any 
profession vpon hym.” 69 This conscious avoidance of a singular “profession,” and the 
role of “generall Scholler” is a category of intellectual self-definition typical of 
humanist scholars in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England. 70 Dee’s 
avoidance of a university career, however, cannot be attributed simply to humanist 
idealism. In the preface to his Propaedeumata aphoristica in 1558, Dee declared him¬ 
self to be the professor of a continental style of philosophy (peregrina philosophandi 
ratio) which was not that of the universities ( Communi, tritave philosophandi via). 11 In 
a letter to William Cecil, Lord Burleigh in 1563, Dee explicitly contrasted the 
intellectual narrowness of the English universities with his own desire for a more 
interdisciplinary approach to natural philosophy: 

Albeit that o r vniversities, both, in them have Men in sundrye knowledges right excellent, 
as, in Diuinitie, the hebrue, greke and latin tung, &c. Yet forasmuche as, the Wisdome 
Infinite of o r Creator, is braunched into manifold mo sort of wunderfnll Sciences, greatly 
ayding Dyuine Sights to the better Vew of his Powre and Goodnes, wherin o r cuntry hath no 
man (that I ever yet could hereof) hable to set furth his fote, or shew his hand : as in the 
Science De Numeris formalibus, the Science De Ponderibus mysticis , and ye Science De 
Mensuris Diuinis : (by which three, the huge frame of this world is fashioned, compact, 
rered, stablished & preserved) and in other Sciences, eyther w th these Collateral^ or from 
them derived, or to themwards, greatly us fordering. 72 

Dee’s career was characterised by this passionate pursuit of “manifold [...] sorts of 
wunderfull Sciences.” He proudly refers to his Monas Hieroglyphica as founding a 
“new discipline” ( Disciplina noua ), for example, 73 and his Mathematicall Praeface to 
Billingsley’s Elements of Euclide introduces a bewildering variety of new subjects 
(such as “hypogeiodi” - the science of subterranean measurement, or “menadrie”, the 
science of artificially augmenting natural forces) to the traditional classification of the 
mathematical sciences. 74 There has been an increased focus in recent intellectual history 
on the problematic nature of early modem disciplines and their relationship to current 
disciplinary formations, and Dee seems to offer an extremely rich and instmctive 
example of the tension between disciplinary recuperation and disciplinary innovation in 
the late sixteenth century. 75 



INTRODUCTION 


11 


There is clearly nothing distinctively “Renaissance” about interdisciplinarity per se. 
Renaissance thinkers often valued the stability offered by clear disciplinary boundaries, 
and the proliferation of attempts to classify the arts and sciences in the late sixteenth 
and early seventeenth century suggests an increased concern for fixing and stabilising 
the field of knowledge. Conrad Gesner, for example, in his Pandectarum sive Par- 
titionum uniuersalium made a strong case for maintaining disciplinary boundaries: 

To put in order what has been written is impossible unless the precise location of all 
knowledge has been established. This must be done, not only because there are so many and 
diverse kinds of subjects, but also because one and the same subject, if considered from 
different points of view, may belong to different branches of knowledge. And yet it is 
necessary that a subject be held together wi thin its own boundaries, so that it does not 
intrude on others . 76 

Like Dee, Gesner embraces the diversification of knowledge even as he tries to insist 
upon its unity, and acknowledges the importance of viewing subjects “from different 
points of view”. Scholars like Dee, who embraced this diversity, seem to create 
problems for the intellectual historian because the process of partitioning (of increasing 
specialisation) - which begins with works like Gesner’s Pandectarum - has accelerated 
to the point where diversification has become problematic. Coming from distinct 
provinces of historical scholarship it is often incomprehensible to those studying, say, 
Dee’s contributions to geometry, or cartography, that the same man embraced the 
divinatory ars sintrillia , folklore on hidden treasure (“hill-digging”), antiquarianism or 
conversations with angels. If intellectual history is to locate a historical figure within a 
coherent discipline or domain (Dee as “mathematician”, as “cartographer”), how does 
one account for these other disciplinary enterprises? Sometimes, too, the very nature of 
what structures these endeavours is problematic, what is the place, for example, of 
“secrets” or “mysteries” within the disciplines currently recognised by intellectual 
history? 

Nicholas Clulee has drawn our attention to the difficulty of what he calls Dee’s 
“omnidisciplinarity” and William Sherman has pointed out that the range of Dee’s 
interests “gives twentieth-century intellectual historians a strong sense of cognitive 
dissonance, if not schizophrenia ”. 77 Anthony a Wood was responding - in his own mid¬ 
seventeenth-century fashion - to the interdisciplinarity of Dee’s career when he 
described him, in his Athenae Oxoniensis, as “a searcher into profound Studies, a great 
Investigator of the more secret hermetical Learning, a perfect Astronomer, a curious 
Astrologer, an excellent Geometrician, and indeed excellent in all kinds of Learning .” 78 
There is an implicit danger, however, in thinking about “early-modern inter¬ 
disciplinarity” - that is, that we might reconfigure various instances of Renaissance 
thought as if they were hybridised “mixtures” or composites of our own disciplines. 
The dangers of such unconscious anachronism can only be overcome by appealing to 
contemporary definitions and categories, and rethinking early-modern intellectual (or 
practical) formations not as “mixed” or divided within themselves but as unique and 
self-constituting modes of thought (or practice). This collection of essays aims to reflect 
the disciplinary complexity of Dee’s intellectual project, without attempting to reduce 
that complexity to a “continuous and harmonious unity .” 79 Bringing together disparate 
areas of Dee’s work, from metallurgy to astrology, from cartography to magic, from 
mathematics to antiquarianism, our aim is to bring this interdisciplinary complexity to 



12 


S. CLUCAS 


the foreground and to invite renewed historical scrutiny of the field of knowledge in 
Elizabethan England. 

One area in which Dee enjoyed an unparalleled reputation during his lifetime was in 
the field of mathematics, and it is fitting that this volume has two essays which address 
this aspect of Dee’s career. In his survey of Dee’s mathematical work in the intro¬ 
duction to the English translation of Dee’s Propaedeumata Aphoristica, John Heilbron 
was rather critical of Dee’s abilities. “The fact of Dee’s contemporary reputation,” 
Heilbron suggested “is easier to ascertain than its basis”, it was only amongst “the less 
able,” he adds, that “Dee passed as a prodigy”. 80 Be that as it may, Anthony a Wood 
described Dee (along with Thomas Harriot, Nathaniel Torperley and Walter Warner), 
as one of “the Atlantes of the mathematic world”, 81 and cites one of Dee’s con¬ 
temporaries who considered him to be “the prince of all the philosophers and 
mathematicians of our age.” 82 Heilbron’s conclusions may, in fact, tell us more about 
what some mid-twentieth-century historians of science considered to be “significant” 
achievements than it tells us about Dee’s place in late sixteenth-century English 
mathematics. 

The essays of Robert Goulding and Stephen Johnston give us a more historically 
sensitive and measured assessment of Dee’s mathematical achievements. Both essays 
consider Dee’s relationship to his younger contemporary Thomas Digges, and reflect 
upon Dee’s mentorial influence and upon the divergence of the two men’s math¬ 
ematical careers. Goulding’s essay focuses on Dee’s Parallaticae commentationis 
praxeosque nucleus quidam and Digges’s Alae seu scalae mathematicae , works pub¬ 
lished in 1573 ostensibly in response to the appearance of the ‘New Star’ (or 
supernova) in 1572. Goulding provides a detailed comparison of the two men’s 
methods of measuring parallax and how it compared to the existing method of Johannes 
Regiomontanus who had developed a method for calculating the parallax of occasional 
astronomical bodies (such as comets) by means of spherical triangles. Although he 
identifies flaws in the treatments of both Dee and Digges, Goulding emphasises that 
“their mastery of parallax far exceeded that of any of their contemporaries” and he 
shows that their ideas about the nature of the New Star were taken seriously enough to 
be subjected to a critique by Tycho Brahe in his Astromomiae instauratae pro- 
gymnasmataP While both Dee and Digges’s works claimed to be addressing the New 
Star, Goulding notes their failure to apply their new parallax theories to the new 
phenomenon and suggests other reasons for their decision to publish at this time. 
Goulding shows how the two mathematicians use the theory of parallax to promote 
their own (very different) mathematical agendas which were independent of the novel 
astronomical phenomenon they were ostensibly commenting upon. Goulding shows 
that Digges’s interest in accurate astronomical measurement reflected his desire to 
provide proof of the Copemican hypothesis, while Dee was more interested in 
increasing the accuracy of his new astrological theory. 

While Stephen Johnston also looks at Dee and Digges’s responses to the New Star, 
his essay reflects more widely on the mathematical careers of the two men and sees the 
relationship between Dee and his young protege as a symptom of a changing con¬ 
ception of the mathematical profession at the end of the sixteenth century. The career of 



INTRODUCTION 


13 


Digges, Johnston suggests, “provides an opportunity to assess Dee’s role in forming the 
next generation of mathematicians.” 84 Digges, who had been taught mathematics by 
Dee after the death of his father in 1559, had been profoundly influenced by Dee’s 
example. Although Digges had “reworked the terms of his mathematical identity” in the 
1570s-80s, moving from his defense of the “intellectual nobility” of purely theoretical 
mathematics in his Mathematicall Discourse of Geometrical Solids appended to his 
edition of his father’s Pantometria (1571) to an ethos of “active service of prince and 
commonwealth” after the publication of his Stratioticos in 1579, Johnston doesn’t see 
this as a break with Dee’s mentorial influence. 85 Rather than seeing Dee and Digges as 
polarised figures, Johnston sees the influence of Dee behind Digges’s early concern 
with abstruse problems in solid geometry, and his later turn toward practice and utility. 
In many respects, Johnston argues, there is a “strong parallel” between the careers of 
Dee and Digges in the 1570s, with both men increasingly embracing a “vernacular ethic 
of mathematical service”. 86 However, like Goulding, Johnston also identifies a “a funda¬ 
mental divergence in their respective conceptions of the identity of the mathematician” 
which he feels is particularly visible in their respective attitudes towards mathematical 
astronomy, and particularly the Copemican hypothesis. 87 While Digges “adopted and 
advocated the Copemican world system as the best representation of the actual order of 
the planets”, Dee avoided discussing the tmth or falsity of Copernicus’s “Hypotheses 
Theoricall”. 88 While Digges stressed the autonomy and superiority of mathematical 
astronomy, Johnston argues, for Dee “cosmological principles were [...] rooted in a 
wider disciplinary constellation than mathematics alone,” and mathematical astronomy 
was seen as subordinate to wider philosophical questions. 89 This profoundly different 
conception of the disciplinary status of mathematics, Johnston suggests, underlies the 
very different paths their careers took in the 1580s, with Digges pursuing “military and 
civil duties” and Dee pursuing his angelic conversations in Europe. 90 

Johnston’s and Goulding’s essays both highlight the problems of disciplinarity in 
Elizabethan England. “For Dee,” Johnston says, “mathematics was thus always placed 
in explicit relation with other learned disciplines, as part of a larger hierarchy of 
knowledge.” He sought to “integrate disciplines in order to straddle boundaries between 
natural, mathematical and esoteric knowledge”, whereas Digges “restricted the 
mathematical arts to a narrower intellectual terrain” but “elevated mathematics above 
other disciplines.” 91 While Johnston is undoubtedly right to suggest that Dee’s “long 
term impact” on mathematics was the practical ethos of his Mathematicall Praeface , 
which promoted “mathematics as worldly, instrumental, practical, vernacular and 
public”, his account of the philosophical orientation of Dee’s mathematics (and 
Goulding’s account of the epistemological assumptions of the Propaedeumata 
aphoristica ), show that a full understanding of Dee’s mathematics requires us to rethink 
the place of mathematics amongst the disciplines at this time. 92 Nicholas Clulee’s 
account of the mathematical science of “Archemasterie” in the Mathematical Praeface , 
(which includes prophecy and divination) makes it clear that Dee had a distinctively 
premodem understanding of the boundaries of mathematics, and that the “practical” 
ethos of the Praeface co-exists with more “occult” or “neoplatonic” understandings of 
the discipline. 93 In a letter to Lord Burghley in 1574 Dee refers to a mediaeval treatise 
on caves by Pandulfus, the De meatibus terrae (which deals with astrology, geomancy 



14 


S. CLUCAS 


and divination) as a work of “mathematics and philosophy”. 94 Until we can find a way 
of placing Dee’s conception of mathematics “as part of a larger hierarchy of 
knowledge” the full significance of his mathematics seems likely to elude us. 

One area in which Dee’s practical mathematical expertise made him an influential 
figure was maritime navigation. The essays of Robert Baldwin and William Sherman 
both address Dee’s involvement in maritime affairs and the ways in which his “studious 
exercises” contributed to the elaboration of an expansionist, imperialist project for 
dominating the seas and extending the limits of England’s dominions. Baldwin’s essay 
shows how the various branches of Dee’s studies intersected in his role as intellectual 
advisor to (and investor in) the Cathay Company voyages to the North West in the 
1570s. Baldwin shows how these activities brought together Dee’s knowledge of 
navigation, geography and cartography (he taught navigational mathematics and the use 
of navigational instruments to English mariners in his library at Mortlake, worked with 
Stephen Borough on circumpolar sea charts and corresponded with Abraham Ortelius 
and Gerard Mercator about their world maps), and his knowledge of alchemy, 
metallurgy and mining law. Like Johnston, Baldwin stresses Dee’s role as a practical 
mathematician, who sought ways in which “his skill in spherical geometry and his 
knowledge of terrestrial variation might be put to practical use”, but also emphasises 
Dee as a political figure and an economic investor. 95 Baldwin’s essay shows the 
disastrous impact of the failure of the Frobisher voyages (which failed to find gold- 
bearing mineral ores in Baffin and Kodlunam Islands) on Dee’s court reputation (a 
number of leading court figures, including William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, 
were among the investors), and suggests that Dee’s flight to the continent with Edward 
Kelley in 1583 may have had strong economic incentives. Despite the failure of this 
key project Baldwin sees the venture as a realisation of an “interdisciplinary, 
technological and mathematical vision” which Dee derived from his contacts in the 
1560s with mathematicians such as Gemma Frisius and Gerard Mercator in Louvain. 96 

William Sherman, like Baldwin, sees the Frobisher voyages of 1576-8 as a key 
moment in Dee’s career, and emphasises the way in which Dee’s reading and research 
were fundamental to his practial involvement in maritime affairs. Dee’s “textual 
exploration”, Sherman argues, was as important as the “geographical exploration” of 
figures such as Martin Frobisher. 97 The ability to amass and keep track of the pro¬ 
liferating textual information about voyages of discovery was a vital part of these 
economic enterprises. “Libraries”, Sherman says, “played an especially important role 
in the launching and directing of voyages of exploration and colonization”. 98 Sherman 
uses the marginalia in Dee’s copy of Ferdinand’s Columbus’s account of his father’s 
famous voyage to the New World as a “sustained example” of the kinds of reading 
practices which he outlined in his John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in 
the English Renaissance , and as an “occasion for some further thoughts on Dee’s 
reading practices [...and] on English Imperialism.” 99 Sherman’s detailed account of 
Dee’s annotations in Columbus’s book gives us a vignette on the ways in which Dee 
was involved in “advocating policies gleaned from his reading of historical texts”, 
and how marginalia can “take us closer to the important ways in which texts 
mediated both personal lives and power politics in the early modem period.” 100 



INTRODUCTION 


15 


Dee’s interests in the occult sciences of astrology, alchemy and the cabala are dealt 
with in the essays of Richard Dunn, Federico Cavallaro and Karen de Leon-Jones. 
Dunn’s account of Dee’s astrology focuses on the discrepancy between Dee’s 
innovative new theory of astrological prediction as set out in his Propaedeumata 
aphoristica (1558) - which was based on natural philosophical principles derived from 
the mediaeval tradition of perspectiva - and the traditional house-based horoscopes 
(including birth charts and horary figures) which make up the bulk of his actual 
astrological practice. While Dee’s published works promised a radical reform of 
astrology, Dunn, concludes, Dee was “applying traditional doctrines in his private 
astrological practices and his charts resembled those of other astrological consultants of 
the time”. 101 Dunn also notes the links between the reformed astrology of the Pro¬ 
paedeumata and Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica which sought to present a new discipline 
which would deal with both “superior” and “inferior” astronomy (i.e. astrology and 
alchemy). 

Federico Cavallaro’s reading of the Monas Hieroglyphica focuses on the second of 
these two “astronomies” - alchemy - and seeks to give an outline of how the various 
parts of the Monas relate to stages in the alchemical process. Cavallaro’s analysis sheds 
new light on this notoriously difficult work and advances some useful speculations on 
the allegorical intentions underlying some of this work’s most obscure passages. 
Cavallaro’s analysis shows the interpretative difficulties posed by the work which 
combines citations of Greek alchemical authors such as Ostanes and Pseudo- 
Democritus, with Paracelsianism, Pythagorean numerology and the Cabala. 

Julian Roberts and Andrew Watson’s account of Dee’s book purchases in the 1560s 
has shown that Dee bought many books on the cabala and Hebrew scholarship and 
although Dee has gone on record as having a limited knowledge of Hebrew, it was 
clearly an area of scholarship which he considered extremely important. 102 Karen De 
Leon-Jones’s essay takes a critical look at Dee’s interest in the Jewish mystical tradition 
of the cabala, or rather his interest in the “Christian cabala” which was derived from it 
in the course of the sixteenth century by scholars such as Johannes Reuchlin and 
Henricus Cornelius Agrippa. Taking issue with Frances Yates’s facile characterisation 
of Dee as “an inherently and intrinsically Hermetic-Cabalistic thinker” De Leon-Jones 
both problematises the notion of a “Christian Cabala” itself (which has an uneasy 
relationship with the Jewish mystical traditions which go under the name of Cabala) 
and assesses the extent of Dee’s interest in cabalistic doctrines and the use which he 
makes of them in his printed works. 103 De Leon-Jones stresses Dee’s critique of 
traditional Jewish cabala in his Monas Hieroglyphica and his insistence that his own 
doctrines constituted a “cabala of the real” rather than a grammarian cabala of the 
Hebrew language. De Leon-Jones stresses the innovative and creative aspect of Dee’s 
use of the cabala, retaining its hermeneutical techniques but divorcing it from the 
meditative and mystical aspects of the Jewish cabala and divesting it of the Jewish 
cosmological principle of the sefirot (the emanations or names of God). Dee, she 
argues, was deeply influenced by Reuchlin’s belief that the cabala was congruent with 
Pythagorean doctrines, and this led him to transform the cabala into a mathematical 
discipline that drew both on Pythagorean numerology and Euclidean geometry. 



16 


S. CLUCAS 


Probably the most controversial and difficult area of Dee’s “occult” or “magical” 
studies is undoubtedly the so-called “angelic conversations” - a series of 
crystallomantic visions fastidiously recorded by Dee between 1581 and 1609. As Peter 
French astutely remarked in his 1972 monograph, accounts of Dee’s work often come 
to grief on the question of Dee’s belief that he could communicate with spiritual beings: 
“There are always those angels lurking in the background,” French complained, “to 
make people uncomfortable.” 104 Those of us working primarily on the angelic materials 
are only too keenly aware of the continued difficulties and discomfort experienced by 
modem historians when faced with these kinds of beliefs. 

Gy orgy Szonyi’s essay seeks to provide some specific contexts for Dee’s ‘scrying’ 
practices, and focuses particularly on the influence of Paracelsus, which, he argues, was 
“systematically overlooked” by Frances Yates and treated only superficially by Peter 
French. Szonyi shows that Dee used Paracelsus’s term for magical talismans - 
gamaaea - in both his Propaedeumata aphoristica and the Monas Hieroglyphica and 
argues that it was Paracelsus’s mystical goal of exaltatio which prepared Dee for his 
crystallomantic activities. 105 He also looks at the “angelic language” or lingua adamica 
supposedly revealed to Dee and Kelley in the context of the sixteenth-century vogue for 
“universal” or “artificial” languages, and the search for universal knowledge. Unlike 
Clulee and Sherman, Szonyi is an advocate (with some minor modifications) of the 
Yatesian thesis of Dee as a “Hermetic philosopher”, although (unlike Yates) he sees 
Dee not as a precursor of modem science, but as a “forefather” of seventeenth-century 
“esotericism”. 106 

My own contribution to the volume emphasises the extent to which Dee’s angelic 
conversations were shaped by mediaeval magical practices. Beginning with a survey of 
the various ways in which intellectual historians have characterised the conversations 
and a brief excursus on the terms which Dee used to describe his communications with 
spiritual beings (spiritual “actions” and “mysticall exercises”), I go on to show the 
considerable influence of Pseudo-Solomonic magical arts of the late middle ages, which 
were widely disseminated in the second half of the sixteenth century. I argue that 
mediaeval and renaissance magic relied heavily on existing traditions of Christian 
prayer, and particularly the idea of the divine granting of petitions ( impetratio ). While 
there is a considerable overlap between Dee’s conversations and mediaeval theurgy, I 
also stress the peculiarity of Dee’s project: its apocalyptic and millenarian objectives 
and pseudo-prophetic claims. 

Deborah Harkness’s essay - presented to the John Dee Colloquium prior to the 
publication of her 1999 book - explores on a smaller scale some of the themes of her 
book-length study. In particular Harkness focuses on the extent to which Dee’s 
involvement in the angelic conversations was continually mediated by the knowledge 
which he gleaned from the works which he collected in his Mortlake library. While 
Sherman has rightly stressed the civic and political role of the Bibliotheca Mortlacensis 
as “a space where independent scholarship could be carried out and circulated among 
the academic, commercial, and political communities”, 107 Harkness shows that his 
library was also a repository of more recondite and arcane knowledge, and played a 
vital role in Dee’s more private, theurgical activities. Dee’s library, Harkness argues, 



INTRODUCTION 


17 


“provides the ideal starting point for an investigation of the angels’ revelations”. 108 In 
particular, she shows how Dee made use of books on angelology and eschatology to 
help him make sense of his turn toward angelic revelations in the 1570s and 80s. 
Harkness sets Dee in the context of a more general European “millenarian moment” 
prompted by “an alarming number of comets, new stars, earthquakes, grand 
conjunctions and other strange natural events.” and shows how he used his extensive 
holdings of books on angelology to shed light on the visions which he recorded so 
assiduously. 109 

In her book on Dee’s angelic conversations, Harkness announced her discovery of 
not one, but two copies of the mysterious Book of Soyga, about which Dee had sought 
angelic advice in 1583. 110 In his essay in this volume professional cryptologist Jim 
Reeds, well known for his work on Trithemius’s Steganographiaf 1 brings modem 
cryptological expertise to bear on the mysterious “magical tables” of Soyga (cellular 
tables filled with apparently random sequences of letters) and compares them with 
Dee’s use of similar tables in his Liber Logaeth (Sloane MS 3189) which incorporates 
eight of the 36 tables contained in the Book of Soyga. Reeds gives the first detailed 
description of the Soyga tables and analyses their formal characteristics. Identifying 
recurrent patterns Reeds is able to arrive at a “recipe for recreating the tables” given a 
six letter code-word and a blank grid. 112 While Reeds is modest about his achievement 
there is no doubt that his work on the underlying mathematical structure of the Soyga 
tables will be of enormous help to anyone attempting to understand the original method 
of their constmction. Not only has Reeds been able to reconstmct the implicit 
mathematical structures of the tables, he has also used modem techniques of error 
analysis to emend the inadvertent mistakes produced by scribal mistranscription. This 
analysis also gives Reeds a sound basis for suggesting that Sloane MS 8 (Dee’s copy of 
the Book of Soyga) is the more accurate of the two copies, and was also the manuscript 
which was used by Dee when he compiled the Liber Logaeth 7 13 Reeds ends his study 
with a comparison of the formal structures of different kinds of magic tables used in the 
early modem period which, he suggests, has received “scant attention” from historians 
of magic such as Frances Yates. 

While most of the essays in this volume seek to offer new perspectives on Dee’s 
known works, the pieces by Susan Bassnett, Jan Backhand and Julian Roberts in this 
volume shed new light on Dee through presenting new archival, bibliographical and 
biographical information. Bassnett and Backlund focus on the shadowy and often mis¬ 
represented figure of Edward Kelley. Routinely presented by historians and biographers 
as a diabolical charlatan - duplicitous, schizophrenic or criminal - Bassnett shows us a 
hitherto unknown side of Kelley through a close examination of materials relating to his 
stepdaughter Elizabeth Weston, while Backlund’s piece describes an unnoticed 
collection of documents in the Royal Library in Copenhagen relating to Edward Kelley 
and alchemists moving in the Dee-Kelley circle. 

Instead of depicting Edward Kelley as a disreputable and criminal character, 
Bassnett emphasises the extent to which he was able to use the connections he made 
during his travels with Dee to carve a respectable niche for himself in Central Europe 
(with “family connections to the emergent figures of the new Bohemian middle class”) 



18 


S. CLUCAS 


and his role as a “loving stepfather” to the Neo-Latin poet Elizabeth Weston. 114 
Bringing together new evidence from Oxfordshire county records and autobiographical 
details from Westonia’s Latin poetry, Bassnett sketches out a tantalising new set of 
possibilities for our understanding of Kelley and his relationship with Dee which, in 
contradistinction to previous historical accounts (which stress Dee’s innocent 
credulity), “is not altogether favourable to Dee”. 115 

Julian Roberts, who presented a privately printed set of corrections to John Dee’s 
Library Catalogue to participants in the 1995 John Dee Colloquium gives us an 
invaluable account of newly discovered books which once formed part of Dee’s library, 
including such remarkable finds as Dee’s densely annotated copy of Marsilio Ficino’s 
Omni Divini Platonis Opera (Basel, 1532), found in the library of St John’s College 
Cambridge, and the two manuscripts of the Aldaraia sive Soyga , discovered by 
Deborah Harkness in the Bodleian Library and the British Library. 

These essays introducing new materials which shed light on Dee and his associates, 
and the other essays which introduce new perspectives on aspects of Dee’s intellectual 
and professional activities suggest that there is still a great deal of work to be done on 
Dee and his involvements in many aspects of Elizabethan life. Dee certainly remains 
an enduringly fascinating figure: in their different ways Edward Fenton’s popular 
edition of Dee’s diaries, Benjamin Woolley’s popular biography The Queen's 
Conjuror: the science and magic of Doctor Dee (2001) and Hakan Hakansson’s 
recent PhD thesis on the occult-philosophical dimensions of Dee’s work, Seeing the 
Word: John Dee and Renaissance Occultism (2001) provide ample testimony that 
Dee’s interest in “rare and straunge Artes” continues to exercise a fascination for 
scholars and the general public alike. 116 As a brief look at the selective bibliography at 
the end of this volume will testify, a considerable amount of new work on various 
aspects of Dee’s intellectual legacy has been published since 1990. With new materials 
and new studies emerging at this rate we can expect our understanding of Dee and his 
significance for sixteenth-century intellectual life to continue changing and developing 
throughout the twenty-first century. 


NOTES 

1 John Dee: An Interdisciplinary Colloquium, Birkbeck College, University of London, 20-21 April 
1995. Two further Dee colloquia have been held since this meeting, the first (organised by Gyorgy 
Szonyi) in Szeged in 1998 and the second in Aarhus in 2001 (organised by Jan Backlund). 

2 E.G.R. Taylor, Tudor Geography 1483-1583 (London: Methuen, 1930), and Francis R. Johnson, 
Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England: A Study in English Scientific Writings from 1500 to 1645 
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1937). 

3 Johnson, Astronomical Thought, 135. 

4 Johnson, Astronomical Thought, 135-6 

5 Johnson, Astronomical Thought, 136. 

6 Taylor, Tudor Geography, 77. 

7 Taylor, Tudor Geography, 82-3, 85-6. For recent work on Dee and Mercator see Steven Vanden 
Broecke, ‘Dee, Mercator, and Fouvain Instrument Making: an Undescribed Astrological Disc by Gerard 
Mercator (1551)’, Annals of Science, 58:3 (2001): 219-240. 

8 Taylor, Tudor Geography, 86. 



INTRODUCTION 


19 


9 E.G.R. Taylor, The Mathematical Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press for the Institute of Navigation, 1954), 170. 

10 Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners , 26, 317. 

11 E.G.R. Taylor, “John Dee and the Nautical Triangle, 1575”, Journal of the Institute of Navigation, 8 
(1955): 318-325 (318). 

12 Taylor, “Nautical Triangle”, 325. 

13 E.G.R. Taylor, “John Dee and the map of North-East Asia”, Imago Mundi, 12 (1955): 103-6 (103); 
E.G.R. Taylor, “A Letter Dated 1577 from Mercator to John Dee”, Imago Mundi, 13 (1956): 56-68 (68). 

14 Brian Vickers, Occult and Scientific Mentalities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 
‘Introduction’, 1-54. 

15 Although it could be argued that the beginnings of the serious historical consideration of the occult 
begins much earlier, with Lynn Thorndike’s, The Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe, 
Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, 24 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1905), and 
his magisterial A History of Magic and Experimental Science during the first thirteen centuries of our 
era, 8 vols. (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1923-58). 

16 1. R. F. Calder, “John Dee Studied as an English Neoplatonist” (Unpublished PhD thesis, The Warburg 
Institute, 1952), 2 vols. \JDEP\ 

17 Calder, JDEP, I, i: “The basic assumptions of this study [...] are similar to those of Burtt’s Meta¬ 
physical Foundations of Modern Physical Science .” 

18 Calder, JDEP, I, i. 

19 For earlier critical historiographical reflections on the Yates-French thesis see Clulee, NP, 2-9, and 
William H. Sherman, John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance, 
(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), xxi-xiii, 13-21. 

20 Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 
1964), 150. 

21 Frances A. Yates, “The Hermetic Tradition in Renaissance Science” in Charles S. Singleton, ed., Art, 
Science and History in the Renaissance (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1967), 255-274 (264) 

22 See Peter. J. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 
1972), xi. 

23 French, Elizabethan Magus, 19: “Clearly much work rema in s to be done before so complex a polymath as 
John Dee can be fully understood and properly appreciated.” 

24 French, Elizabethan Magus, 1. 

25 French, Elizabethan Magus, 2-3, 89. 

26 French, Elizabethan Magus, 187. 

27 French, Elizabethan Magus, 208. 

28 French, Elizabethan Magus, 209. 

29 French, Elizabethan Magus, 19. 

30 Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 149. 

31 Robert S. Westman, “Magical Reform and Astronomical Reform: The Yates Thesis Reconsidered” in 
Robert S. Westman and J. E. McGuire, Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution. Papers read at a 
Clark Library Seminar, March 9,1974. (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1977), 1-91. 

32 French, Elizabethan Magus, 103, cit. Westman and McGuire, Hermeticism and the Scientific Revo¬ 
lution, 45. 

33 Westman and McGuire, Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution, 46-7. 

34 Westman and McGuire, Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution, 47. For Dee’s annotations in 
Crusius see Westman and McGuire’s Plate 3. 

35 Westman and McGuire, Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution, 68. 

36 Westman and McGuire, Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution, 69-70. 

37 Westman and McGuire, Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution, 70, 72. 

38 PA, ix. 

39 PA, 5. 

40 PA, 15. 

41 PA, 17. 

42 PA, 31. 

43 PA, 37. 

44 PA, 34. 

45 PA, 37. 



20 


S. CLUCAS 


46 PA, ix. 

^ PA, 53. 

48 Debus, 21-2 

49 Allen G. Debus, The Mathematicall Praeface to the Elements of Geometrie of Euclide of Megara 
(1570) (New York: Science History Publications, 1975), 8-9. 

50 Debus, 24-25. 

51 Nicholas H. Clulee, ‘“The Glas of Creation’: Renaissance Mathematicism and Natural Philosophy in 
the Work of John Dee”, University of Chicago Ph.D, 1973. “John Dee’s Mathematics and the Grading of 
Compound Qualities”, Ambix, 18 (1971), 178-211 “Astrology, Magic and Optics: Facets of John Dee’s 
Early Natural Philosophy”, Renaissance Quarterly 30 (1977): 632-680, “At the Crossroads of Magic and 
Science: John Dee’s Archemasterie” in Brian Vickers, ed., Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the 
Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 57-71. 

52 NP, 71-2. Clulee emphasizes the decisive influence on Dee’s Propaedeumata Aphoristica of Roger Bacon, 
Robert Grosseteste and Al-Kindi’s De radiis. 

53 NP, 215-216 

54 Nicholas H. Clulee, “John Dee and the Paracelsians” in Allen G. Debus and Michael T. Walton, eds., 
Reading the Book of Nature: The Other Side of the Scientific Revolution, Sixteenth Century Essays and 
Studies, 41 (A nn Arbor Michigan: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1998), 111-132. Steven Vanden 
Broecke, The Limits of Influence : Pico, Louvain, and the Crisis of Renaissance Astrology, Medieval and 
Early Modem Science, 4 (Leiden: Brill, 2003). 

55 R&W. 

56 Infra, 32 

57 Infra, 28 

58 William H. Sherman, John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance 
(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), 79. 

59 Sherman, John Dee, 129. 

60 Sherman, John Dee, xiii-xiv. 

61 Sherman, John Dee, xii. 

62 1 am thinking particularly here of Sherman’s citation of Geoffrey Elton to characterise Dee as “one of 
those who ‘thought coolly, secularly and constmctively about the problems of the common weal and who 
faced the practical tasks involved in turning aspiration into action.’”, Politics of reading, 145-6, but also, 
more generally, of his tendency to downplay the religious dimensions of Dee’s political statements. 

63 Deborah E. Harkness, “The Scientific Reformation: John Dee and the Restitution of Nature” 
(Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of California Davis, 1994). 

64 “Shows in the Showstone: A Theater of Alchemy and Apocalypse in the Angel Conversations of John 
Dee”, Renaissance Quarterly, 49 (1996): 707-737. 

65 Deborah E. Harkness, “Managing an Experimental Household: The Dees of Mortlake”, Isis, 88 (1997): 
242-262. 

66 Deborah E. Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 

67 Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels, 217. 

68 Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels, 130. 

69 Arthur Dee to “Mr Aldrich”, 15 December 1649, autograph, Northamptonshire Record Office, Isham- 
Lamport papers, IC 272. The account was requested by a friend of Aldrich “that meant to register yt among 
som other lemed men of our Age or Byrth.” 

70 On the ideal of the “general scholar” and its relationship to encyclopaedism in the early modem period 
see Richard Serjeantson, ed., Generali Learning. A seventeenth-century treatise on the formation of the 
general scholar by Meric Casaubon, Renaissance Texts from Manuscript, 2 (Cambridge: RTM 
Publications, 1999), 13-26. 

11 PA, 110-111, 120-121. 

72 John Dee to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, 16 February 1563, Public Record Office, State Papers 
Domestic 12/27, item 63. See John E. Bailey, “Dee and Trithemius’s ‘Steganography’”, Notes and 
Queries, fifth series, 11 (1879): 401-2, 422-3. 

73 MH, Theorem XXIII, 25r. 

74 See NP, 154-162. 

75 See Donald R. Kelley, History and the Disciplines: The Reclassification of Knowledge in Early Modern 
Europe (Rochester: The University of Rochester Press, 1997), “Introduction”, 1-9, and “The Problem of 



INTRODUCTION 


21 


Knowledge and the Concept of Discipline”, 13-28; Donald R. Kelley and Richard H. Popkin, eds. The Shapes of 
Knowledge from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991) and 
Anthony Grafton and Nancy G. Siraisi, eds., Natural Particulars: Nature and the Disciplines in Renaissance 
Europe (Cambridge Mass, and London: MIT Press , 1999). 

76 Conrad Gesner, Pandectarum sive Partitionum uniuersalium Conradi Gesneri Tigurini, medici & 
philosophiae professoris, libriXXI (Zurich, 1548), Preface, cit. Hans Wellisch, “How to Make an Index - 
16th Century Style: Conrad Gessner on Indexes and Catalogs”, International Classification, 8:1 (1981), 
10-15(13). 

77 NP, xi; Sherman, Politics, xii. 

78 Anthony a Wood, Athenae Oxoniensis. An Exact History of all the Writers and Bishops who have had 
their education in the University of Oxford. To which are added the Fasti, or Annals of the said 
University, ed. P. Bliss, 3 vols (London, 1813-17), III, col. 289. 

79 French, John Dee, 208. 

80 PA, 16-17. For Heilbron’s account of Dee as mathematician see ibid., 16-34. For a more sympathetic 
assessment of Dee’s involvement in sixteenth-century mathematical enterprises see Mordechai Feingold, 
The Mathematicians’ Apprenticeship: Science, Universities and Society in England, 1560-1640 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 129-137, etpassim. 

81 Athenae Oxoniensis, II, col. 542. 

82 Athenae Oxoniensis, III, col. 291: “omnium hac nostra aetate turn philosophorum, turn 
mathematicorum facile princeps.” 

83 Infra, 42, 47. 

84 Infra, 65. 

85 Infra, 66. 

86 Infra 66, 72. 

87 Infra, 66. 

88 Infra, 75. 

89 Infra, 75. 

90 Infra, 72-3. 

91 Infra, 77. 

92 Infra, 79, 81. 

93 On the mathematical epistemological complexity of Dee’s Mathematical Praeface, see Stephen Clucas, 
“‘No small force’: mathematics and natural philosophy in Thomas Gresham’s London” in Francis Ames- 
Lewis, ed., Sir Thomas Gresham and Gresham College: Studies in the Intellectual History of London in the 
Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Aldershot: Ashgate Press, 1999), 146-173 and Enrico Rambaldi, 
“John Dee and Federico Commandino: An English and an Italian Interpretation of Euclid during the 
Renaissance”, Rivista di Storia della Filosofia, 44 (1989): 211-247. 

94 Dee to Lord Burghley, 3 Oct 1574, British Library, Lansdowne MS 19, Burghley Papers 1574-5, fols. 
81 v -82 r . 

95 Infra, 100. 

96 See Baldwin, infra, 108. On Dee and the Louvain mathematical community see also Vanden Broecke, 
“Dee, Mercator, and Louvain Instrument Making”. 

97 Infra, 132. 

98 Infra, 132. 

99 Infra, 132. 

100 Infra, 138. 

101 Infra, 92 

102 On Dee’s collecting of books on Hebrew scholarship see R&W, 11, 29. 

103 Infra, 143-4. This is a topic which De Leon-Jones has addressed at greater length in her book Giordano 
Bruno and the Kabbalah: Prophets, Magicians and Rabbis (New Haven and London:Yale University 
Press, 1997). 

104 French, Elizabethan Magus, 18. 

105 Infra, 212-213. 

106 Infra, 222-3. 

107 Sherman, John Dee, 45. 

108 Infra, 276. 

109 Infra, 277-8. 

110 Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels, 44-5. See also infra, 178, 278-9, 334. 



22 


S. CLUCAS 


111 Jim Reeds, “Solved: The Ciphers in Book III of Trithemius’s Steganographia ”, Cryptologia, 22:4 
(1998): 291-317. 

112 Infra, 188. 

113 Infra, 195. 

114 Infra, 287, 290. 

115 Infra, 292. 

116 Benjamin Woolley, The Queen’s Conjuror: the Science and Magic of Doctor John Dee, Adviser to 
Queen Elizabeth I (London and New York: Harper Collins, 2001); Edward Fenton, ed., The Diaries of 
John Dee (Charlbury: Day Books, 1998); Hakan Hakansson, Seeing the Word: John Dee and 
Renaissance Occultism , Ugglan Minervaserien, 2 (Lund: Lund Universitet, 2001). Published PhD Thesis. 



NICHOLAS H. CLULEE 


JOHN DEE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY REVISITED 


Almost thirty years ago I presented my first paper on Dee, and the reception at the 
History of Science Society meeting was not so much hostile as vacant and 
indifferent. At a time when the “Scientific Revolution” had pride of place in the 
history of science, Dee could not hold a candle to Copernicus, Vesalius, Galileo, 
Descartes, Newton, or the other heroes of scientific progress. For close to the next 
quarter century I could not count on anyone in an audience knowing who Dee was, 
let alone recognizing him as of any importance. Because of these experiences I 
developed an almost ritual like formula of several sentences to introduce Dee and 
plug his claim to scholarly attention. If Dee, perhaps, has not in the last decade 
become the latest counter-hero in the revisionist culture wars of the scientific 
revolution, he has at least moved out of the shadows of preterition. In the ten years 
since I published John Dee's Natural Philosophy , I have sensed a more easy 
familiarity with Dee in scholarly circles. This is less because of my work, I think, 
than of the accumulation of a critical mass of scholarship. There has been a 
mounting volume of studies on Dee, most notably William Sherman’s John Dee: 
The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance and Deborah 
Harkness’s studies of Dee’s angel conversations. 1 This improvement of Dee’s status 
in scholarship, however, does not mean that his identity has been resolved. Trying to 
bring who, or what Dee was into focus has not been easy. To paraphrase Peter 
Novick, trying to pin Dee down may be like trying to nail jelly to a wall. 2 Since my 
primary concern with Dee has been in the context of the history of science, a field 
that has experienced considerable changes to its conceptual framework in the past 
decade, I think it appropriate in this context to reflect on the historiographic locus of 
John Dee in the history of science. 

Now historiography may be the refuge of those with little new to say, but two 
things suggest otherwise on this occasion. First, Yates’s “reintroduction of Dee” was 
carried out against the backdrop of a particular stage in the history of science; 
making these relationships clear will assist in critically appreciating her work and 
the Dee that emerged from it. Second, major changes have accrued over the last ten 
years in the historiography of early modem science and these present an altered 
framework for understanding Dee in relation to science. 

I have previously referred to Yates’s and French’s picture of Dee as the Warburg 
interpretation, 3 because Frances Yates, from her position at the Warburg Institute, 
was its root and guiding inspiration, and I will use that designation here for its verbal 
convenience. For the first of my themes, I want to suggest that this Warburg John 
Dee was very much conditioned by its development in the context of the concept of 

23 

S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, 23-37. 

© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



24 


N. H. CLULEE 


the Scientific Revolution. As Floris Cohen recently has made clear, the concept of 
the “Scientific Revolution” as a localized historical occurrence that created a 
specifically modern and western science of the natural world was a very specific 
historical creation, barely fifty years old, that in its earliest formulation wove 
together several strands at cross purposes. 4 

What became the modern idea of the Scientific Revolution was articulated in 
1943 when Alexandre Koyre, localizing the emergence of modern science within 
astronomy and physics, applied this phrase to his sense of a sharp conceptual shift 
yielding Galileo’s and Descartes’s new understanding of motion. While never 
entirely lost, this sharp disjunction was progressively flattened out. 5 Koyre himself 
eventually placed it within a broader historical process beginning with Copernicus 
and only resolved with a “Newtonian synthesis,” a process that seemed to parallel 
Edwin Burtt’s theme of the mathematization of nature from Copernicus to Newton. 6 
Finally, in 1948 Herbert Butterfield’s lectures on The Origins of Modern Science 
gave greater general currency to the idea that this great story of the transformation of 
astronomy and mechanics was the decisive shift in the transition to the modern 
world. He also further broadened it by extending the dates from 1300 to 1800 to 
encompass Vesalius and Harvey, a host of other interesting things happening in the 
Renaissance, and a “Postponed Scientific Revolution in Chemistry.” 7 Butterfield 
thereby bequeathed something of a “dual usage” of the concept of the Scientific 
Revolution. One usage referred to the master narrative of an inner revolution in 
astronomy and mechanics and the attendant philosophical shifts progressing from 
Copernicus to Newton that became something of a standard model. The other usage 
applied to the congeries of developments in the broader chronological period in 
which the master narrative was embedded and whose relation to the inner revolution 
remained unclear and problematical. 8 

On an individual level, John Dee exemplifies a number of challenges presented 
by this new conception of a Scientific Revolution. His learning, interests, and 
activities in mathematics, navigation, and astronomy had never been forgotten, and 
bits and pieces of his work could be associated with some of the novelties of the 
sixteenth century and hints of some progressive strand, such as Copernicanism, 
could, with enough effort, be teased from his legacy. 9 But if all of Dee’s activities 
are considered, including his conversations with angels through Edward Kelley and 
other mediums, there might seem to be no place for the likes of him in Koyre’s and 
Burtt’s conceptual mutations or in the master narrative of Butterfield’s “inner 
revolution,” whose core Rupert Hall identified with the triumph of rationality. 10 
Despite any positive glimmers, this new concept of the Scientific Revolution 
threatened to consign Dee to Hall’s “vast deal of esoteric chaff’ that had to be 
eliminated before a pure science emerged. 11 

This “litmus test” had a real impact in casting Dee into preterition. I remember a 
meeting much like this one devoted to Thomas Harriot in 1971. For the opening of 
his keynote address, Edward Rosen chose to quote from a passage in Vesalius on the 
renewal and usefulness of the sciences, using this text to highlight themes he related 
to Harriot. Since all of these themes could be found in Dee’s Mathematicall 



DEE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY REVISITED 


25 


Praeface, I was puzzled. I asked Rosen why he did not take for his text Dee’s 
Praeface. Besides Harriot and Dee being acquainted, the Praeface seemed more 
appropriate in that it was English, to say nothing of actually recommending 
mathematics on which Vesalius is silent. Rosen replied that he did not want Dee’s 
funny business with angels and so forth to confuse the issue. 

Not only Dee but the entire character of the Renaissance was implicated in the 
concept of the Scientific Revolution. If it was the seventeenth-century mutation in 
science that marked the beginning of the modern world, what then of Burckhardt’s 
Renaissance and “The Discovery of the World and of Man”? Butterfield implied that 
the Renaissance was merely preliminary to the Scientific Revolution which he 
claimed “outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the 
Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes, mere internal dis¬ 
placements, within the system of medieval Christendom.” 12 The new history of 
science, which was gaining status as a professional academic discipline, threatened 
to consign Renaissance scholars to the pre-modem shadows. 13 In response, there 
developed a considerable literature by Renaissance scholars concerned to establish 
the positive relation of Renaissance culture to the progressive movement toward 
modern science. 14 Frances Yates shared these concerns. When she began working on 
Bmno in the 1930s, she inherited from Duhem the notion that science was medieval 
and that the Renaissance and humanism had impeded it. 15 Later, reflecting the new 
concept of the Scientific Revolution, she was concerned that science came later and 
independently of the Renaissance. As she observed: 

we all descend from Descartes and the seventeenth century, and surely someone ought 
to be able to tell us what the seventeenth century emerged from? Did it spring ready 
armed like Minerva out of nothing, as professor Kristeller says some people think? Did 
it spring from medieval philosophy and science after their interruption by Renaissance 
humanism? Neither seems likely according to the normal rules of progression. There 
ought to be an intermediate ancestor and it ought to be Renaissance philosophy. 16 

The Warburg Interpretation sought to rescue the Renaissance and Dee from 
preterition by developing how Renaissance philosophy was this intermediate 
ancestor. This ultimately centred on presenting Dee, because of his recognized 
scientific activities, as a key vehicle through which a strand of Renaissance culture 
flowed into the progressive movement that became the Scientific Revolution. 
Consequently, the Scientific Revolution actually offered a framework for 
legitimating Dee, including even his apparently non-scientific diversions, as an 
important historical figure. This approach is first evident in Calder’s 1952 
dissertation, “John Dee Studied as an English Neoplatonist,” done under the 
direction of Yates and already reflecting her interest in Dee and science. 17 Working 
in the early years of the concept of the Scientific Revolution, Calder accepts as his 
framework the emphasis on mathematization and mechanistic causality that Koyre, 
Burtt, and others took as the essentials of the new science. Calder argued that Dee’s 
advocacy of a scientifically oriented form of Renaissance Neoplatonism put him in a 
line with Kepler and Galileo as a proponent of the extension of methods of 
quantitative analysis to natural questions in place of the qualitative approach of 
Aristotelian science. 18 



26 


N. H. CLULEE 


However, it proved difficult to find within the Neoplatonism of the Renaissance 
a clear mechanism of transition from number symbolism to mathematics as a tool of 
quantitative analysis other than Koyre’s mutation in Galileo’s thought, leaving the 
Renaissance and science as distinct as ever. 19 This weakness was alleviated by 
Frances Yates in 1964 in Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Here she 
identifies the specific texts of the Hermetic corpus as the “vital core of Renaissance 
thought on nature” and linked them very directly to the start of the Scientific 
Revolution through the Hermetic conception of magic. 20 In her search for the 
intermediate ancestor of Descartes, Yates said, 

perhaps we should look harder for the hidden springs of the movement which was to be 
so fateful, seeking them, not in humanism nor in a rather confused ‘Neoplatonist’ 
philosophy, but in the accompaniments of that philosophy, Hermeticism, Cabalism, 

Lullism, Pythagorean numerology - that labyrinthine maze in which the late 
Renaissance seeks ever more feverishly for an operative ‘method’ - until Descartes 
emerged with a method that worked. 21 

Yates was not the first to recognize the importance of the Hermetica or to make a 
connection between magic and science, nor was this the central or exclusive concern 
of her works, but she constantly gravitated to the question, and her formulations 
became popular and the centre of controversy over what came to be called the Yates 
thesis. The formulation of this evolved with each of her works, but the core idea is 
that an intellectual movement, such as the Scientific Revolution, begins with a 
“movement of the will” - a change in attitude and intellectual direction - not the 
specific breakthroughs that come later. 22 The Hermetic magus as operator, in this 
interpretation, began this movement of the will and shaped it in the direction of the 
control of nature, experiment, and the use of number and mathematics, and 
ultimately provided the atmosphere and impulse for the crystallization of the new 
conception of science in what is almost a Gnostic revelation. 23 

Yates turned to Dee in support of her contention that it was the union of 
Hermetic magic with the Neoplatonic-Pythagorean view of number as the key to the 
secrets of nature that promoted an interest in the mathematical study of nature 
through the mathematical arts and physics. The key text here is his Mathematicall 
Praeface to the English translation of Euclid’s Elements of 1570, in which he 
strongly advocated the study of the mathematical and mechanical sciences that were 
to triumph in the seventeenth century. 24 The source, she suggested, of not only Dee’s 
advocacy but also of his actual practical scientific work and of the central place of 
mathematics in the expressions of his natural philosophy in the Propaedeumata 
Aphoristica and the Monas Hieroglyphica , was the union within the Renaissance 
Hermetic tradition of magic with Pythagorean speculative mathematics. 25 In her 
noteworthy formulation, Dee is: 

a clear example of how the will to operate, stimulated by Renaissance magic, could pass 
into, and stimulate, the will to operate in genuine applied science; or of how operating 
with number in the higher sphere of religious magic could belong with, and stimulate, 
operating with number in the lower sphere of ‘real artificial magic’. 26 

Yates’s association of Dee with Hermetic magic preserves Calder’s theme that 
Neoplatonic mathematicism was preparatory to the development of early modern 
science. What is new is the role of magic. The idea of operational power inherent in 



DEE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY REVISITED 


27 


Hermetic magic is the key both to understand how Dee’s angelic conversations and 
his practical scientific activities and interest in mechanics flow from a single source 
but also to explain why the view of mathematics inherent in Neoplatonism came to 
be actively applied to the study of nature. 

In Yates’s later works Dee became even more central. As she admitted, the 
Elizabethan Renaissance and its continental connections had been an early and 
persistent concern, and Dee increasingly became the medium through which she 
extended the influence of the “hermetic-cabalist tradition” in an English guise into 
even wider areas of sixteenth-century culture than she had in her work on Bruno. 27 
Yates eventually came to distinguish two phases within the Hermetic tradition: an 
early Renaissance phase and a later Rosicrucian phase. The Rosicrucian type of 
magic, so-called because of its role in the Rosicrucian manifestos, evolved in the 
later sixteenth century and aimed at more direct operation in the external world and 
contributed most directly to science. 28 

Yates traced the formation of this Rosicrucian type of Hermeticism to John 
Dee’s combination of magic, cabala, and alchemy in the Monas Hieroglyphica and 
the spiritual exercises he carried out with angels. In 1583 he carried this brand of 
Hermeticism to Eastern Europe and became the leader of a religious movement 
centred on a cabalist and alchemical philosophy that became the root of the later 
Rosicrucian movement. 29 The culmination of Yates’s progressive unravelling of the 
English Renaissance is The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age , where she 
finds the key component of Elizabethan culture to be a cabalistic variety of the 
Hermetic occult philosophy built from Lull, Ficino, Pico, Agrippa, and Francesco 
Giorgi, given a particularly English and Rosicrucian expression by Dee with his 
addition of alchemy. 30 

For all the importance that Yates gave to Dee as a “towering figure” in the 
history of European thought, she herself never seems to have studied him 
intensively. In her early works, she relied upon Calder for basic information and 
even detailed textual readings, as well as his broad interpretation, which she 
subsumed within the larger Hermetic tradition. Later she could turn to Peter 
French’s John Dee , which appeared when Yates’s interpretation of Dee was still a 
group of scattered suggestions. 31 His accomplishment was to elaborate these 
suggestions into a comprehensive interpretation of Dee as a Hermetic magus 
encompassing not only Dee’s works but arguing as well for Dee’s importance in 
English culture through his work in navigation, the influence of the Mathematicall 
Praeface on English mechanicians, and the influence of his philosophy in literature 
through his association with the “Sidney circle” and patrons at court. Subsequently, 
this Warburg Interpretation became an accepted framework, accepted with little 
question in many circumstances, including Couliano’s Eros and Magic in the 
Renaissance , a number of dissertations, including mine, and as the starting point for 
rich fictional elaboration as in Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. 32 

Returning to Yates, her “thesis” generated considerable controversy among 
historians of Renaissance thought and of early modern science. It was originally to 



28 


N. H. CLULEE 


pursue Dee as a test case in exploring the relations among mathematics, magic, and 
the development of science that I began working on him. The extent of his concrete 
work in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and the practical mathematical arts 
offered opportunities that were insufficiently exploited by Yates or French. In 
pursuing this, however, I became progressively dissatisfied with the Warburg Dee. 
Beginning with a sense that important elements of Dee’s thought ill fit the Hermetic 
framework, this dissatisfaction extended to the basic approach of the Warburg 
Interpretation. Common to Calder, Yates, and French was an approach in which 
Dee’s importance was established by splicing him into an existing intellectual 
tradition that intersected with science. This yielded a Dee who was a static 
embodiment of tradition, with his texts as mere containers of ideas. If he was to be 
important in his own right, I thought he deserved better. 

When I wrote John Dee's Natural Philosophy I had two objectives. One was to 
contribute to the discussion of the place of the “occult” sciences in the Renaissance 
and their relation to the development of natural philosophy and science, for which 
Dee seemed an ideal case study. The second was to give Dee’s natural philosophy 
the study it seemed to deserve if he was indeed as important a figure as Yates 
claimed. I therefore endeavoured to approach him not as someone to be placed 
within an existing tradition or as an instance of influences but as an individual 
whose works must first be studied in their own right. I began then with Dee’s 
writings that most significantly engaged issues of natural philosophy: the 
Propaedeumata Aphoristica of 1558, the Monas Hieroglyphica of 1564, the 
Mathematicall Praeface of 1570, and the records of his conversations with angels 
from 1583 to 1589. I attempted to situate each text within Dee’s career at that point 
- to discover issues he was engaging, how these grew out of both practical concerns 
and his reading, how his texts reflect a creative engagement with the cultural 
resources available to him, and how both the issues and his formulations might have 
been related to his social situation and aspirations. Because we have a record of his 
library, now available in a magnificent edition by Julian Roberts and Andrew 
Watson, and many existing copies of his books with his annotations can be 
identified, the possibilities of doing a cultural history of his intellectual life are 
particularly rich. 33 Considering his writings as creative products of his engaging 
particular issues, of his reading in his wonderful library, and of his dialogues with 
his books and contemporaries, leads to an appreciation of the complexity and 
individuality of Dee’s philosophical roots, to the awareness that his thinking 
changed over time and needs to be related to changing social and cultural 
frameworks, and to different conclusions on the central historiographic issue of 
magic and science. 

I did not find in his work in natural philosophy a further elaboration of 
Renaissance Florentine Neoplatonism, or of a coherent recognized “Hermetic” 
tradition, or of a Renaissance “occult philosophy” with a Hermetic, or Neoplatonist, 
or Pythagorean, or Cabalist core as Yates variously specified. He began with a 
neoplatonizing Aristotelianism, giving a particular role to optics derived principally 
from Roger Bacon. Eater he evolved a more clearly neoplatonic, alchemical and 
magical occultism and spiritualism derived principally from Johannes Trithemius. 



DEE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY REVISITED 


29 


His theory of the status of mathematics and of the possibilities of its application to 
reality was derived from Proclus. He moved beyond the optical physics of 
astrological influence in the Propaedeumata to come to share with others of his time 
the search for an “ancient theology,” a pristine divine language of things 
transcending the conventional character of human languages, and a religious 
immediacy through magic as a religious mysticism, but his realization of these 
things came through his own personal development and an idiosyncratic blend of 
sources in which medieval Latin and Arabic authors were of as much importance as 
those of the Renaissance. 

The evolution of Dee’s thinking and his changing interests were socially 
conditioned by his pursuit of patronage and the effort to define an identity and role 
for himself. While the Warburg Interpretation mentioned Dee’s practical activities 
and his relations with the court, his writings and intellectual life were not closely 
tied to his practical need to establish and build a career. In actuality, he presented his 
work in natural philosophy as a claim to elevate himself from the narrow 
instrumental role of teacher and practical adviser to the status of royal intellectual 
with the financial security and freedom to pursue his special studies. In the Monas 
the image of the natural philosopher evolved into an exalted source of wisdom and 
advice in the polity because as an adept he had privileged access to secret and divine 
understanding. This new image was suggested by the Secretum secretorum and 
Roger Bacon’s annotations on it, where the occult wisdom of the philosopher is the 
basis of Aristotle’s special claims as adviser to Alexander. This association spurred 
and shaped Dee’s assimilation of more spiritually occult sources in his quest to be 
Elizabeth’s and Britain’s “Christian Aristotle.” 

On Yates’s central issue of magic, I see Dee’s writings presenting two strands 
tending in different directions. One strand was a natural magic encompassing natural 
lore, the practical arts, a natural philosophy providing for powers and corres¬ 
pondences that can be manipulated, and an ethos that sought to understand and to 
capture and control the powers and processes of nature. The other was a religious 
magic in which occult correspondences and powers were seen as paths to the divine 
and the spiritual ascent of the magus. Of the two, natural magic was the more 
conducive to the investigation of nature we associate with science, the religious 
variety referencing nature and natural knowledge as a source of spiritual insight 
rather than as subjects of study in their own right. On the issue of the connection of 
Renaissance occultism with the Scientific Revolution, which had been the original 
objective of my study of Dee and for which Dee was a mainstay of the Yates thesis, 
the jury is still out. Although there are pointed demurrers, a variety of studies have 
accumulated indications of continuity from various occult traditions into facets of 
the new sciences of the seventeenth century. 34 Specific connections from the works 
of Dee have not, however, been forthcoming. Nonetheless, for what it is worth, John 
Henry has suggested that the most positive connection of the occult with 
seventeenth-century science was a natural magic of the type Dee related to Roger 
Bacon. 35 



30 


N. H. CLULEE 


Now I would like to think that I have made some useful contributions to 
understanding Dee, but with regard to the Warburg Dee and the Yates thesis these 
conclusions are rather bleakly negative. Dee is not the “towering figure in European 
thought” whose example will support a connection between the Renaissance in the 
guise of a revival of Hermetic magic and the new science of the Scientific 
Revolution. While the continuity from Renaissance to new science is still 
problematic, I think Dee also suggests a good deal of continuity between medieval 
and Renaissance, with the medieval elements being the more productive for Dee’s 
investigation of nature. 

Rather than make Dee a unique case, some of these conclusions actually accord 
with other scholarly directions that have emerged since Yates’s work. That 
hermeticism and the Hermetica played little role in Dee’s thought is not surprising 
in the light of Brian Copenhaver’s work. Copenhaver has shown that Hermes and 
the Hermetica served a mainly doxographic role, providing a basis of legitimacy for 
magic that was based on the theoretical foundation of a Neoplatonic cosmology 
most clearly expressed by Proclus and supported by a long tradition of supposedly 
empirical information about magical objects. The Hermetica were not necessary for 
the adoption of or pursuit of an occult or magical natural philosophy, as is clear in 
the case of Dee, who appealed little to authority and when he did, usually invoked 
Roger Bacon. When the Hermetica went beyond legitimating magic to actually 
shaping it, as in the case of Robert Fludd, it was the religious elements that pre¬ 
dominated, driving magic away from its natural orientation toward a spiritual 
theosophy similar to Dee’s later inclinations and less conducive to science. 36 

On a larger scale, changes in the historiography of science have made the issue 
of continuities between the Renaissance and early modem science of less central 
concern. In recent years there has been a sense of considerable difficulty with the 
entire idea of the Scientific Revolution. The sense of crisis reflected in Jan 
Golinski’s “question as to whether the notion of a coherent, European-wide, 
Scientific Revolution can survive continued historiographical scrutiny” seems 
confirmed when Cohen, after reading the wide-ranging collection of papers in 
Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution , came to wonder “whether such a thing as 
the ‘Scientific Revolution’ mentioned in the title ever took place at all.” 37 Originally 
designating an event - Koyre’s sharp mutation in the science of motion - the 
concept has been progressively diluted and flattened out to designate a chronological 
period encompassing such a variety of developments that its claim to mark a unique 
and decisive stage in the development of the West is in serious jeopardy. 38 

A number of things contributed to this state of affairs, but overall, they are at 
root a function of the progressive historicization of science. The very emergence of 
the notion of the Scientific Revolution was coupled with an historicist aim on 
Koyre’s part to analyse the thought of a scientist in the context of his own work and 
that of his contemporaries and predecessors rather than just tracing prevailing 
scientific ideas back to their origins or as a way of illustrating preconceived 
philosophical viewpoints. 39 In its earliest stage, this effort yielded a sharply defined 
turning point within the clear line of a narrative from Copernicus to Newton. 



DEE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY REVISITED 


31 


Butterfield’s broadening of coverage and the dual usage of the term blurred the clear 
narrative line, as did growing specialist studies highlighting lesser-known scientific 
characters and previously unknown sides of familiar figures. 40 Inclusion of elements 
previously marginalized by the great story became a deluge following the 
publication of Yates’s Giordano Bruno , as magic, alchemy, Paracelsian medicine, 
and hosts of other occultist and mystical approaches to nature claimed equal status 
with and came to jostle side by side with and even to displace the traditional 
heroes. 41 Recently, more serious challenges have come from the “linguistic turn,” 
which at its most radical raises doubts that there is a reality of nature that could be 
known by science, reducing the privileged status of “modem” science at the 
expense of the older “occult” science, and the contextualist approach of social 
constmctivism by which what used to be seen as purely scientific advances are seen 
as contingent products of problems and solutions that develop in local frames of 
meaning produced in a social context by rival interest groups. 42 In sum, the clear line 
of a master narrative from Copernicus to Newton has been muddied, and the 
traditional framework of debate between internalist and externalist causes, and 
evolutionary versus revolutionary change, which rested on the assumption that 
modern science has some defining feature, whose appearance in the Scientific 
Revolution it is the historian’s task to explain and present in a “great story,” has 
been rendered problematic by doubts that such a feature can be grasped. 43 

While historians of science who made their careers as investigators of the 
Scientific Revolution may anguish over the “uncertainties of a larger historiographic 
framework in flux” and lament the passing of the distinctiveness of what the concept 
originally denoted, this may be a positive step for the study of Dee and figures like 
him. 44 First, in the area of science, this frees us of the burden and constriction of ever 
trying to relate him to a progressive movement whose outcome in Newton was 
foreordained. The contextualist approach, offered by John Schuster in response to 
the difficulties in the historiography of the Scientific Revolution, by focusing on the 
contingencies of the process of change in natural philosophy and the sciences rather 
than developments destined to culminate in Newton, offers a framework that looks 
promising for the investigation of Dee. This approach takes natural philosophy and 
the various sciences as sub-cultures whose social and cognitive enterprises interact 
internally and among each other, while also being conditioned by “the larger social, 
political, and economic contexts in which they were practiced and promoted.” 45 The 
challenge thus becomes the description and explanation of these processes of not 
necessarily progressive change within the natural philosophies and sciences of the 
early modern period. 

Freed of the Whiggish concern with progressive change, what Schuster calls the 
“Scientific Renaissance” of the sixteenth century can be considered independent of 
any progressive contribution to the future. In conjunction with the increasing erosion 
of Aristotelian natural philosophy, the availability of the scientific, mathematical, 
and natural philosophical heritages of classical antiquity and of Arabic and Latin 
medieval civilizations provided a host of competing socio-cognitive subcultures as 
they interacted with the re-evaluation of the status of the practical arts and found 
new and receptive social, political, and economic audiences and avenues of 



32 


N. H. CLULEE 


advancement outside the universities in courts, commerce, administration, and 
popular culture. What prevailed was not a single alternative to Aristotle, whether 
Neoplatonic, Hermetic, or Chemical, but a broad, eclectic, shifting, and confused 
range of intellectual and social initiatives. 46 

This characterization accords well with Dee’s eclectic reading from classical to 
medieval Arabic and Latin sources, his openness to the practical arts, his groping for 
an appropriate social identity and locus, and his shifting definition of problems as he 
cut himself loose from the natural philosophical framework of Aristotelianism. What 
follows are some scattered observations on what I see as some of the opportunities 
for Dee scholarship flowing from these shifts in historiography. First, opportunity 
exists for much more work on Dee as natural philosopher and scientist. Many of 
Dee’s works could use further investigation, the Mathematical! Praeface being one. 
Some years ago Bert Hansen embarked on a project, which has since lapsed, to 
produce a detailed annotated edition of the Praeface , identifying references and 
exploring the sources and functions of its various components. I think it would still 
be valuable to carry this out. Of course, anyone undertaking this now has at their 
disposal Julian Roberts’s and Andrew Watson’s magnificent edition and study of 
Dee’s library. It goes almost without saying that this must be a touchstone for almost 
all future work on Dee and could be the subject for studies of its own. 

If studied in a larger context, Dee could also serve to illuminate aspects of the 
dynamics of Schuster’s Scientific Renaissance. In a recent paper, Bernard Goldstein 
and Peter Barker called attention to the important influence of Christoph 
Rothmann’s rejection of solid celestial orbs on Tycho Brahe’s promulgation of his 
geo-heliocentric alternative to Copernicus. Rothmann came to his conclusion from 
studies of the position and parallax of the comet of 1585, for which he relied on 
Johannes Pena’s translation and promotion of the practical use of Euclid’s Optics , as 
well as the work of Gemma Frisius. 47 What strikes me is that Dee had studied these 
same works from his interest in optics, he had also worked on the parallax of the 
Nova of 1572, and he had corresponded with Tycho, yet Dee never reached the point 
where he had anything of interest to offer Tycho. Now this could be taken as an 
instance of Dee missing the progressive boat, but from another perspective it could 
provide an opportunity for a comparative study of the intersection and interaction of 
texts, of the definition of problems at hand, of the constraints of social contexts, and 
of the possibilities and limitations of disciplinary dialogues. 

A second consequence of abandoning the search for strong links between the 
Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution is that science and natural philosophy 
need not be the only historiographic context in which to consider Dee. Establishing 
Dee as a, or even the, link between Renaissance and new science was the pro¬ 
blematic that framed the Warburg Dee. However much I may have managed to 
present a different Dee, the same problematic served as my starting point and my 
issues and consideration of Dee as natural philosopher. Decoupling Dee from 
science presents other possibilities. Most obviously, consideration of a number of 
his activities, and I am thinking particularly of the angelic conversations, should 
benefit from freeing them from the implicit question of how could a man of science 



DEE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY REVISITED 


33 


do this? In addition to the contributions at this colloquium to this facet of Dee, we 
now have several important studies from Deborah Harkness. 48 

This also implies rethinking the Dee canon. Since Calder, the Propaedeumata , 
the Monas , and the Praeface have stood at the core of that canon, with other 
writings as peripheral or marginal. William Sherman has called attention to the 
“unreading” suffered by some of Dee’s texts and their contexts that accompanied the 
picture of Dee as primarily philosopher/natural philosopher/scientist. 49 Sherman’s 
initiative reached fruition just as this colloquium opened with the availability of the 
first copies of his John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English 
Renaissance . 50 Using Dee’s library, his marginalia, and manuscript remains to their 
fullest, and analysing the intellectual activity they reflect, Sherman presents Dee in 
the new context of consultant within commercial, academic, and courtly spheres, 
and reconstructs the scholarly network that centred on Dee’s library and household. 
Deborah Harkness has also contributed to transforming Dee from isolated 
intellectual into a more multidimensional personality with her recent study of the 
management of Dee’s “experimental household,” evoking the importance of Jane 
Dee’s role along side that of John. 51 

This unreading, despite Sherman, is persistent and results from more than ex¬ 
clusive focus on Dee’s natural philosophy or printed sources. In two recent pieces on 
maps in Tudor England, one particularly concerned with the political function of 
maps, Dee is barely mentioned, and then only on the basis of the older secondary 
literature. 52 Richard Helgerson in his Forms of Nationhood. The Elizabethan Writing 
of England, has only one reference to Dee in a note on maps. Helgerson’s silence on 
Dee partly results from the condition that Dee is not part of the literary canon that 
Helgerson takes as his matter; so, the picture of Dee as scientist is not the only 
source of an unreading. 53 Dee left writings appropriate to Helgerson’s subject, but 
they are in manuscript, which is a further obstacle to reading Dee fully. All post- 
Warburg studies of Dee have given serious consideration to his manuscript remains, 
and it should go without saying that any future work on Dee cannot ignore the 
manuscript remains. The larger problem that these examples present for this 
colloquium is that historical studies can apparently be written without Dee. Is he 
really so inconsequential? Just as I complete this draft, I am encouraged that this 
situation may have taken a turn for the better after seeing a notice for Lesley B. Cor- 
mack’s Charting an Empire. Geography at the English Universities, 1580-1620. 54 

One thing that has struck me lately is that the actual history that Dee has 
experienced serves to define a number of areas that deserve further investigation. 
For instance, the Mathematicall Praeface was reprinted twice in the seventeenth 
century, in 1651 and in 1661, as part of the republication of Billingsley’s Euclid. 
This could provide a concrete line on Dee’s possible influence into the core period 
of the Scientific Revolution, which might yield results through an investigation of 
these re-editions, their readership, and how Dee’s Praeface fared among them. To 
be truly fruitful, this ought to investigate the motives for republication, how Dee was 
read and by whom, and how his ideas may have functioned in that period. 



34 


N. H. CLULEE 


Again, with the change in the historiography of science, perhaps the most 
interesting possibilities are in other areas. In the broad sweep of history we should 
acknowledge that despite the efforts of Calder, Yates, and French, Dee’s name is not 
and probably never will be invoked in the company of Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, et. 
al. to stand for certain intellectual values associated with enlightenment. This 
marginalization may be the product of the social construction of an ideology of 
science, but it speaks to a cultural artefact that might yield to historical analysis. At 
the same time as he has been marginalized in one tradition, he has been absorbed 
into a different mainstream in being evoked from his own day to ours in occultist 
and spiritualist contexts. I am thinking of the sensationalism of Deacon’s secret 
agent, the fascination with his angelic language and mystical books from Casaubon 
to Laycock’s Enochian Dictionary , and how readily Umberto Eco could use Yates’s 
Rosicrucian Dee to create for him a major role in Foucault’s Pendulum. Quite 
recently, Erik Davis traced modern computers to the magic and art of memory of 
Lull and Bruno, and drew parallels between Dee’s channelling to the spirit world 
and Davis’s own evocation of a spiritualized New Age cyberculture. Dee’s angels 
are seen as prefiguring software agents, his angel magic giving us a “hermetic image 
of information space.” Thus, we have “Dee accessing angelic agents through the 
interface of coded Calls and ‘shew-stone glass’.” 55 In thoroughly de-historicizing 
Dee, I find this approach less than helpful in understanding Dee. Since I have also 
worked as a computer consultant, this does not even do anything for my 
understanding of computers and the “information highway.” This is a cultural 
artefact, however, and why Dee is invoked in this context may tell us something 
about the thing Davis calls cyberculture; certainly it speaks volumes about the 
mystifications evoked by novel technologies in the manner so luxuriantly explored 
by Pynchon as well as the “excess of wonder” leading the hermetic interpreter on 
that is one of Umberto Eco’s themes. 56 

Closer to our scholarly home in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Dee’s 
Monas had by far the strongest history of all of his works. In addition to the original 
1564 edition, there was one printed in 1591 at Frankfurt, as well as its inclusion in 
the 1622 and 1659 editions of Zetzner’s great Theatrum chemicum. Further, the 
Monas , its central symbol, or its ideas are mentioned, referenced, discussed, or 
critiqued by Johann Valentin Andreae, Petrus Bongus, Gerard Dorn, Andreas 
Libavius, Heinrich Khunrath, and Athanasius Kircher, and possibly others. In 
addition, it was clearly suggestive to the author of the Consideratio brevis that pre¬ 
cedes the second Rosicrucian manifesto, the Confessio fraternitatis of 1615. 57 This 
association with the Rosicrucian phenomenon also absorbed other Dee influences 
such as the publication of Dee’s edition of and notes to Roger Bacon’s Epistola de 
secretis operibus artis et naturae , to which has been added introductory material and 
additional notes indicating Rosicrucian sympathies. 58 

Yates’s Rosicrucian Enlightenment may have been on to something after all. 
Tracing the Rosicrucian phenomenon to Dee’s “mission” to the East and his 
association there may be without foundation, but we need to acknowledge a 
historical reality here. Dee’s Monas in some way became a part of a cultural ferment 
in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that could well repay study. 



DEE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY REVISITED 


35 


Such study should involve looking at things not exclusively from Dee’s side but also 
from the perspective of those who read him. For instance, only four years after the 
Monas appeared, Gerard Dorn featured the Monas symbol and other figures from 
the Monas as part of a device on the title page of his Chymisticum artificium 
naturae. This is interesting in a number of regards. Dee owned a copy of this, and 
complained that Dorn used the symbols without properly crediting him. 59 Dorn, in 
fact, uses Dee’s figures in his own particular context. Dorn, and other authors who 
mention Dee’s Monas , provide materials for the study of how others read and 
filtered Dee’s ideas to give the richest picture of how Dee became part of this 
cultural ferment. Further, Dorn is particularly important as a major agent in the 
dissemination of Paracelsian ideas in the late sixteenth century. Because of the large 
collection of Paracelsian works in Dee’s library catalogue, Dee’s relation to the 
Paracelsian strand in the sixteenth century is of interest, and Dorn’s work presents 
one intersection of Dee and Paracelsian ideas that should be of interest not only from 
the point of view of Dee, but also in terms of the development of the Paracelsian 
tradition. 60 

In making all these suggestions, and suggestions is all they are, my main concern 
is to suggest that there is ample opportunity for fresh perspectives to tell us more 
about who John Dee was and what his significance was in the culture of early 
modern Europe. 


NOTES 

1 William H. Sherman, John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance 
(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995) and Deborah E. Harkness, “Shows in the Showstone: 
A Theater of Alchemy and Apocalypse in the Angel Conversations of John Dee (1527-1608/9)”, 
Renaissance Quarterly , 49 (1996): 707-37, as well as her larger study John Dee’s Conversations with 
Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), and 
other studies. 

2 Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question ’ and the American Historical Profession 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). 

3 NP, 2. 

4 H. Floris Cohen, The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Inquiry (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1994), 2. 

5 Cohen, 74-75. 

6 Cohen, 98. 

7 Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science. Rev. edn. (New York: The Free Press, 1965). 

8 Cohen, 112-13, 121. 

9 E.G.R. Taylor, Tudor Geography, 1485-1583 (London: Methuen, 1930), and E.G.R. Taylor, 
Mathematical Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for 
the Institute of Navigation, 1954); Francis R. Johnson, Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England 
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1937). 

10 Cohen, 116. 

11 A. Rupert Hall, The Scientific Revolution, 1500-1800. 2nd edn. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), 309. 

12 Butterfield, 7. 

13 Cohen, 2. 

14 See, for instance, the excerpts collected in Vem L. Bullough, ed., The Scientific Revolution (New York: 
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970). 

15 Frances A. Yates, Ideas and Ideals in the North Italian Renaissance, Collected Essays, 3 (London: 
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), 313. 



36 


N. H. CLULEE 


16 Frances A. Yates, Renaissance and Reform: The Italian Contribution, Collected Essays, 2 (London: 
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), 78. 

17 JDEP. 

18 JDEP, I, 14, 48-67, 124-42. 

19 Cohen, 285. 

20 Cohen, 286. 

21 Yates, Renaissance and Reform, 78. 

22 Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 
1964), 448-49. 

23 Cohen, 287-96. 

24 Frances A. Yates, “The Hermetic Tradition in Renaissance Science” in Charles S. Singleton, ed., Art, 
Science, and History in the Renaissance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968), 259, 261-62. 

25 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 146-47; Yates, “The Hermetic Tradition”, 258-62; Frances A. Yates, Theatre 
of the World (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), 5. 

26 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 150. 

27 Frances A. Yates, Shakespeare’s Last Plays: A New Approach (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 
1975), 3-9. 

28 Yates, “The Hermetic Tradition”, 263; Frances A. Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: 
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), 222-23. 

29 Yates, Rosicrucian, 220-21. 

30 Frances A. Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 
1979). 

31 After her Giordano Bruno, Art of Memory, essay on ‘The Hermetic Tradition,’ and Theatre of the 
World, but before The Rosicrucian Enlightenment and The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. 

32 loan P. Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. Trans. Margaret Cook (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1987), 60-63; Graham Yewbrey, “John Dee and the ‘Sidney Group’: Cosmopolitics and 
Protestant ‘Activism’ in the 1570s.” (Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Hull, 1981); Nicholas H. 
Clulee, “‘The Glas of Creation’: Renaissance Mathematicism and Natural Philosophy in the Work of 
John Dee” (Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Chicago, 1973); Umberto Eco, Foucault’s 
Pendulum, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), 195, 399-401, 404, 
406-420. 

33 R&W. 

34 The literature on this issue is too extensive to cite fully, but the following give some indication of the 
dimensions of the issue. Brian Copenhaver, “A Tale of Two Fishes: Magical Objects in Natural History 
from Antiquity through the Scientific Revolution”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 52 (1991): 373-398; 
Keith Hutchison, “Supematuralism and the Mechanical Philosophy”, History of Science, 21 (1983): 297- 
333; Prabir Mitra, “Explanations in the History of Science: A Study of the Interpretation of Hermetic 
Influence on the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Science”, Organon, 20/21 (1984-5): 81-104; G. MacDonald 
Ross, “Occultism and Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century” in Philosophy, Its History and 
Historiography, edited by A. J. Holland (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1985), 95-115; Simon Schaffer, 
“Occultism and Reason” in Holland, ed., 117-143; William R. Newman, “Alchemical Corpuscular 
Theory in the Art/Nature Debate: The Case of Daniel Sennert”, History of Science Society Annual 
Meeting, November 8, 1997; Brian Vickers, “Critical Reactions to the Occult Sciences During the 
Renaissance” in The Scientific Enterprise, edited by Edna Ullmann-Margalit (Dordrecht: Kluwer 
Academic Publishers, 1992), 43-92; and Brian Vickers, “On the Goal of the Occult Sciences in the 
Renaissance” in Die Renaissance im Blick der Nationen Europas, edited by George Kauffmann 
(Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1991), 51-93. 

35 John Henry, “Magic and Science in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries” in Companion to the 
History of Modern Science, edited by R. C. Olby et al. (London: Routledge, 1990), 583-96. 

36 Brian P. Copenhaver, “Natural magic, hermetism, and occultism in early modern science” in 
Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution, edited by David C. Lindberg and Robert S. Westman 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 261-90. 

37 Cohen, 499-500, quoting Golinski. 

38 Cohen, 494-500. 

39 Cohen, 97-98. 

40 Westman and Lindberg, “Introduction,” Reappraisals, xvii. 

41 Cohen, 169-71; John A. Schuster, “The Scientific Revolution” in Companion, 221-22. 

42 Westman and Lindberg, xix; Cohen, 229-31. 



DEE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY REVISITED 


37 


43 Schuster, 218-23. 

44 Westman and Lindberg, xx. 

45 Schuster, 223. 

46 Schuster, 228-31. 

47 Bernard R. Goldstein and Peter Barker, “The Role of Rothmann in the Dissolution of the Celestial 
Spheres”, British Journal for the History of Science , 28 (1995): 385-403; Victor E. Thoren, The Lord of 
Uraniborg: A Biography of Tycho Brahe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 257-58, 271 - 
80. 

48 Deborah E. Harkness, “Shows in the Showstone: A Theatre of Alchemy and Apocalypse in the Angel 
Converstations of John Dee (1527-1608/9)”, Renaissance Quarterly, 49 (1996): 707-737; and her John 
Dee’s Conversations with Angels. 

49 William H. Sherman, “John Dee’s Brytannicae Reipublicae Synopsis : a Reader’s Guide to the 
Elizabethan Commonwealth”, The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 20 (1990): 293-94. 

50 Sherman, John Dee. 

51 Deborah E. Harkness, “Managing an Experimental Household: The Dees of Mortlake and the Practice 
of Natural Philosophy”, Isis, 88 (1997): 247-62. 

52 Peter Barber, “England II: Monarchs, Ministers, and Maps, 1550-1626” in Monarchs, Ministers, and 
Maps: The Emergence of Cartography as a Tool of Government in Early Modern Europe, edited by 
David Buisseret (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 57-98; P. D. A. Harvey, Maps in Tudor 
England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993). 

53 Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood. The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1992), 1-18. 

54 Lesley B. Cormack, Charting an Empire: Geography at the English Universities, 1580-1620 (Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1997). 

55 Erik Davis, “Techgnosis: Magic, Memory, and the Angels of Information”, South Atlantic Quarterly, 
92:4 (1993): 585-616 (603). 

56 On the cults inspired by technology and science, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Crying of 
Lot 49 furnish numerous examples. On Eco see Bernard Williams, “The Riddle of Umberto Eco”, New 
York Review of Books, 2 February 1995, 33. 

57 Yates, Rosicrucian Enlightenment, 46-47. 

58 Roger Bacon, Epistolce Fratris Rogerij Baconis, De secretis operibus artis et naturce, et de nullitate 
magice. Opera Iohannis Dee [...] epluribus exemplaribus castigata olim, et ad sensum integrum restituta 
(Hamburg, 1618). 

59 Gerard Dorn, Chymisticum artificium naturae, theoricum & practicum ([n.p., n.pub], 1568). Dee’s 
copy is in the New York Society Library. The title page of this has Dee’s initials at the top and an 
inscription at the bottom to the effect that Dorn used Dee’s symbol without acknowledgement. The title 
page is illustrated in Nicholas H. Clulee, “John Dee and the Paracelsians” in Reading the Book of Nature. 
The Other Side of the Scientific Revolution, edited by Allen G. Debus and Michael T. Walton. Sixteenth 
Century Essays & Studies, 41 (Kirksville: Truman University Press, for The Sixteenth Century Journal 
Publishers Inc., 1998), 120. 

60 Clulee, “John Dee and the Paracelsians.” 



PART ONE : ASTRONOMY AND ASTROLOGY 



ROBERT GOULDING 


WINGS (OR STAIRS) TO THE HEAVENS 

The Parallactic Treatises of John Dee and Thomas Digges 


A NEW STAR 

In November 1572, a new object appeared in the night sky over Europe. A 
contemporary observer, Bartolomaeus Raisacher of Vienna, recorded a detailed 
description: 

The apparition is some kind of brilliant luminous body, in brightness equalling the stars 
of the first magnitude - even outshining some of them. It has a bright, yellowish-gold 
light so that it resembles Jupiter, yet its glow is rather reddish, resembling in a certain 
way Mars at its acronychal appearance. It has been visible for some months now, in the 
northern part of the sky, circling each night around the north celestial pole in the 
constellation of Cassiopeia. It has only a single motion - the diurnal motion - and 
always maintains the same distance from the surrounding stars; in itself it is immobile 
as it is revolved around the pole. 1 

The New Star in fact took seventeen months to disappear entirely from sight. It 
was, as we now know, a supernova - the catastrophic explosion of a star that had, 
until then, been invisible to the naked eye. 2 Astrologers predicted dire consequences 
would result from the marvel, for they knew that comets - the only phenomena in 
their experience even remotely comparable to the New Star - were sure portents of 
ill fortune. But although many astronomers feared the star was as ominous as a 
comet, most recognized that it differed from a comet in several ways. Most 
noticeably, it had no tail, and thus resembled more closely a planet or fixed star. 
And, as Raisacher noted (indeed, as was clear to all who observed the star), it had no 
motion of its own. It remained, night after night, in the same position relative to the 
stars surrounding it, unlike the comets which astronomers were used to tracking 
across the sky. These obvious differences led many observers to wonder whether the 
star might in fact be entirely new, and unrelated to comets in any way. 

Aristotle had defined a comet as the ignition of a dry terrestrial exhalation in the 
upper sphere of air. 3 Thus comets alone among all the other bright objects in the sky 
resided below the sphere of the moon, within the terrestrial world of change and 
decay. In this sense, the location of a comet was practically its defining chara¬ 
cteristic. So, in order to determine whether the New Star was the same sort of thing 
as a comet, contemporary astronomers saw there could be only one deciding factor: 
the location of the New Star in the universe or, more specifically, its distance from 
the earth. 


41 


S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, 41-63. 
© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



42 


R. GOULDING 


Astronomers had a technique for measuring celestial distances that promised to 
solve the problem, based on parallax, or the apparent change in position of a nearby 
object when observed from different angles. This paper will examine the ways in 
which contemporary European astronomers, chief among them Thomas Digges and 
John Dee, adapted the ancient method of parallactic observation to the problem of 
the New Star. In doing so, we shall see that Digges and Dee were already familiar 
with the uses of parallax, and in fact had long cherished an ambitious programme of 
reforming the whole of astronomy on the basis of the technique. The fortuitous 
appearance of the New Star in 1572, and the consequent revival of interest in 
parallax, as we shall see, forced the two astronomers to make public, somewhat 
prematurely, their unfinished project. While their work actually had little specific 
relevance to the appearance of the New Star, nevertheless we shall see from their 
texts that their mastery of parallax far exceeded that of any of their contemporaries. 

THE TECHNIQUE OF PARALLACTIC OBSERVATION 

Understanding of parallax dates back at least to the second century BC, when the 
Greek astronomer Hipparchus wrote a treatise on parallaxes, and used parallax to 
find a value for the distances from the earth of both the sun and the moon. 4 Ptolemy 
employed Hipparchus’s work in his own treatment of the same problem, recorded in 
the fifth book of the Almagest , where he established a value for the distance of the 
moon from the earth that was remarkably accurate. 5 


A 



Figure 1. Based on Regiomontanus, De cometis, Problem 1 

The principle behind parallax is simple. In Figure 1. the small circle with radius 
EH represents the earth, while the larger circle, radius EA, is the celestial sphere. 
The object being observed is at G. Most astronomical observations assume that the 
earth is a point in comparison with the celestial sphere, that the radius of the earth is 
negligible in comparison with celestial distances, and that the observer can thus be 
assumed to be at the centre of the earth. The position of the body G is given by the 
line through E , the centre of the earth, and G, which meets the celestial sphere at B. 
This is the ‘true position’ of the body. Parallax arises when the body is so close to 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


43 


the earth that the assumption that the earth’s radius is negligible no longer holds. In 
such a situation, if the observer is at H , then the line of sight to the object is HG , and 
the object will appear against the celestial sphere at C, the object’s ‘apparent 
position’. If our theory predicts that the true position of the object is B , then the 
difference between the true, predicted position and the apparent position is the 
parallax, angle BGC, or, more conveniently, the corresponding angle BEK , at the 
centre of the earth. 

Brief consideration of this diagram reveals the following basic facts about 
parallax: 

• Parallax causes a body to appear lower in the sky than it actually 
is. 

• The closer an object is to earth, the greater is its parallax. 

• At the observer’s zenith (A) the parallax of an object is zero, and 
it increases as the object gets closer to the local horizon, where it 
is at a maximum. 

More precisely, since the alternate angles BEK and HGE are equal, we find that: 

EG _ sin (EHG) 

EH sin {parallax) 

where EHG is the apparent angular distance of the object from the zenith. Knowing 
the radius of the earth, then, one discovers the distance of the object from the earth. 6 

This method does require us to have an idea of where the object should be, in 
that we determine the parallax of an object by measuring the deviation of its 
observed position from its expected position. In the case of the moon, Ptolemy’s 
method was to measure the position of the moon first when it crossed the meridian 
at the closest possible point to the zenith. The effect of parallax here is negligible, 
and from this observation he could determine what the moon’s distance from the 
zenith should be - if there were no parallax - when it reached a point on its cycle 
such that its distance from the zenith was greatest. It is precisely at this point, 
however, that the moon is most affected by parallax. For this reason the deviation 
from the expected position is large and relatively easy to measure, and in this way 
Ptolemy could calculate the distance of the moon from the earth. 7 

In measuring the lunar parallax, Ptolemy had centuries of observation of the 
moon’s regular behaviour to draw upon, so that he was able to determine, very 
accurately, the exact moment when the moon reached its expected position, and its 
parallax was at a maximum. It was more difficult to see how to apply the technique 
to a comet (or, indeed, to the New Star). In the case of such an ephemeral 
phenomenon, the astronomer had no way to predict when the object’s parallax 
would be at a maximum and a minimum. In general, and this was the crux of the 
problem, there did not appear to be any theoretical means for locating the true 
position of the phenomenon, against which its observed position could be compared, 
and its parallax determined. 



44 


R. GOULDING 


REGIOMONTANUS ON THE PARALLAX OF COMETS 

The solution came in 1531, with the posthumous publication of a work, On Comets , 
by the Nuremberg astronomer Johannes Regiomontanus (1436-76). 8 Regiomontanus 
proposed and solved sixteen problems on comets, demonstrating that it was possible 
to find the parallax of an object even though its true position might be unknown at 
the outset. We need only concern ourselves here with the problems that deal directly 
with parallax. 9 Problem III is typical in its requirements and method: 

The altitude of the comet and its azimuth arc are taken either before or after meridian, 
and the exact time of this observation is noted, together with the exact time that the 
comet passes the meridian. This is easily done through observation of any fixed star 
having a known place. 10 

Two observations of the comet are required, one on the meridian and one at any 
other point. The exact time, taken from a reference star, of each observation is noted, 
as is the altitude and azimuth of the second observation. This provides enough 
information to solve a single spherical triangle, of which one of the ‘unknowns’ is 
the true position of the comet at the second observation. Having established the true 
position in this way, the astronomer can then take the difference between this true 
position and the observed position, and determine the parallax. 11 

Although the complexity of the constructions and the dryness of his presentation 
obscure his method somewhat, Regiomontanus takes essentially the same approach 
in all of his problems: in effect, he takes one observation and then works out, using 
the simple principles of the celestial sphere, where the comet should appear in the 
second observation if it were not affected by parallax. Sometimes, as in Problem III, 
this can be done very straightforwardly. In other problems - especially those that 
analyse observations taken anywhere in the celestial sphere - the process is much 
more difficult, requiring the solution of as many as four spherical triangles. While 
each problem may ask for a different type of observation, all require two obser¬ 
vations and an accurate measure of the time between them. As we shall see a little 
later on, the difficulty of satisfying the last requirement was precisely what inspired 
Thomas Digges to search for new methods of determining parallax. 


REGIOMONTANUS’S METHODS APPLIED TO THE NEW STAR 

Most contemporary astronomers were content to use Regiomontanus’s method of 
determining parallax, in spite of its many difficulties. Tadeas Hajek, the imperial 
physician and close friend of Tycho Brahe, for example, wrote one of the most 
competent accounts of the star. He used Regiomontanus’s third problem to establish 
that the star had no observable parallax. 12 Once he had shown that there was no 
parallax, he demonstrated how this could be discovered even more easily, by taking 
two observations on the meridian and finding that the star was the same distance 
from the celestial pole at upper and lower meridian crossings. 13 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


45 


Since, in the latitudes of Europe, the New Star was circumpolar and could be 
observed crossing the meridian twice in a night, several astronomers opted for this 
simple test of its parallax. Instead of attempting to improve on Regiomontanus, most 
astronomers considered that there were more direct ways to demonstrate the New 
Star’s immunity to parallax than his complex parallax problems with their 
multitudes of spherical triangles. While these might be useful in some cir¬ 
cumstances, the star’s fortunate position, high in the sky, and within a bright, well- 
defined constellation, offered more direct methods for observing it. Michael 
Maestlin, for example, showed that the star lacked parallax by lining it up with pairs 
of fixed stars using a thread held taut above his head. 14 


DIGGES AND DEE ON THE NEW STAR 

Thus we see that most astronomers confronting the phenomenon of the New Star in 
the first few years after its appearance either applied old and familiar mathematical 
methods to explain its appearance; or used even simpler techniques. They did not 
develop the theory of parallax beyond the level to which Regiomontanus had 
brought it, nor, more importantly, did they feel the need to do so. Early in 1573, 
however, Thomas Digges and John Dee each published a treatise in response to the 
appearance of the New Star; both works were quite different from the tracts of Hajek 
and other contemporaries that we have just examined. 15 Unlike these earlier authors, 
the two English astronomers presented fully worked-out mathematical treatises on 
the theory of parallax, including new methods for measuring parallax that avoided 
the necessity of measuring time (the major, and most difficult, requirement of 
Regiomontanus’s method). 

Digges and Dee produced these innovative works, moreover, within just four 
months of the New Star’s appearance. There can be no question that the two 
astronomers had been working on the problem of parallax for some time before this 
event. Indeed, one of the more curious aspects of both treatises is the way that the 
very fact of the New Star’s existence seems to have been incompletely incorporated 
into the exposition of the mathematical theorems. We must conclude that they had 
been pursuing this theoretical work without any reference to the New Star, but that it 
was its appearance in the sky that spurred them into publication. 

While the opinions of Digges and Dee on the New Star are of interest, they 
appear to be independent of their theoretical work on parallax. In Digges’s case, he 
seems to think that parallax will be really useful as a means for determining the 
exact distances of the planets, and thus establishing the Copemican world system. In 
fact, so great is his interest in the Copernican system that he even turns his 
discussion of the nature of the New Star into a further proof of the system. Dee, by 
contrast, finds parallax most useful as a way to establish his naturalistic, physically- 
grounded astrology. His treatise does not even consider the nature of the New Star, 
although we do have information on his views from other sources, which will be 
explored below. 



46 


R. GOULDING 


DIGGES ON PARALLAX 

The theoretical core of Digges’s Alae is a series of twenty-one “Problems” on 
parallax. The title he gave to his geometrical constructions was clearly meant to 
recall the cometary “Problems” of Regiomontanus; but Digges was determined to 
overcome what he saw as flaws in his predecessor’s method, principally the need to 
measure the time elapsed between the two observations. 16 Yet while it is true that 
Digges’s parallactic Problems do not require the measurement of time, they are by 
no means free from defects. 

The first nine Problems are preliminary results in arithmetic and in plane and 
spherical trigonometry. In the remaining twelve Problems Digges presents his new 
methods of parallactic observation. In order to assess his work, it will be useful to 
examine some representative examples of these Problems, and consider whether 
through them he achieved what he had hoped. 

Regiomontanus’s third Problem requires the astronomer to take one observation 
(of altitude and azimuth) of a comet on the meridian, and another when the comet 
was at any other point in the sky. In addition, of course, the astronomer had to make 
a record of the time elapsed between the two observations using, as Regiomontanus 
suggests, a reference star. He also assumes that the astronomer knows his local 
terrestrial latitude, a basic astronomical fact. Digges reworks Regiomontanus’s 
method in his Problem XVIII. He too requires two observations of the object (again, 
altitude and azimuth), one on the meridian and another anywhere else on the 
celestial sphere. But he does not require the time between the two observations — 
imposing instead a bewildering array of other measurements that have to be made 
simultaneously when the astronomer observes the object: the angular distance of the 
object from two fixed stars, the angular separation of the two fixed stars, and the 
altitudes and azimuths of each of the stars at each of the moments of observation. As 
something of a consolation, he finds that he can dispense with the local latitude, and 
does not require the astronomer to know the celestial coordinates of the two fixed 
stars. 

This is hardly an improvement on Regiomontanus, who had required eight 
“crucial” measurements: four to find the altitude and azimuth of the phenomenon at 
two instances, and four to find the same coordinates of a reference star (in order to 
measure the elapsed time). In addition, Regiomontanus’s method called for three 
data that could be determined at leisure: the local latitude, and the longitude and 
latitude of the reference star, all of which an astronomer would most probably have 
had at hand in any case. In contrast, Digges demands sixteen crucial measurements: 
the same four altitude and azimuth observations of the phenomenon, eight more to 
obtain the same coordinates of the stars, and the distance of the phenomenon from 
each of the stars at each moment of observation. There is only one datum that can be 
determined at any time: the angular distance between the two fixed stars. 

Although Digges was anxious to avoid any explicit measurement of time, in 
effect he replaced that requirement with something far more complicated, as Tycho 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


47 


Brahe recognized in the large section of his Astronomiae instauratae pro- 
gymnasmata that is devoted to a critique of Digges’s work. 17 Tycho considered 
Digges’s measurement of the position of the New Star to be among the most 
accurate, 18 but it is Digges’s new methods that are of the most interest to him. He 
delivers a terse judgement on this Problem: “The eighteenth Problem is complicated 
by more prerequisites than it is reasonable to demand, which cannot easily be 
provided without any suspicion of error.” 19 

Other Problems require less data, but are beset with difficulties of their own. The 
fourteenth Problem, for instance, appears to ask only for a single observation: the 
altitude of the phenomenon at its maximum azimuth. In order to determine when this 
moment will be, however, the astronomer must first have taken an altitude 
measurement of the star on the meridian, as well as repeated azimuth measurements 
of the star until its azimuth equals its polar distance on the meridian. Indeed, the 
astronomer would have great difficulty finding the precise moment to make his 
observation unless he used a reference star, which is, in effect, a measurement of 
time. Even apart from these difficulties, the Problem has a more fundamental flaw. 
Digges requires the altitude of the object at the very moment that the altitude is most 
affected by the diurnal rotation of the heavens and most difficult to measure 
accurately - and he then hopes to find the parallax from a tiny discrepancy in the 
object’s expected altitude. Tycho, as one might expect, criticizes this infelicity. 20 
Even Digges, in his own summary of the Problems, is forced to admit that this 
Problem is not his best: “It is completely unsuitable for practical use, although the 
geometrical construction is quite perfect.” 21 

In fact, Digges considers that Problems 10 to 14 are all difficult to put into 
practice. He is much more enthusiastic about Problems 15 to 21, claiming that they 
will “very precisely and simply reveal true parallaxes.” 22 These latter problems all 
require the astronomer to measure the separation of the phenomenon from one or 
more fixed stars. Digges used only a cross-staff in observation, 23 an instrument 
admirably suited to the measurement of stellar separations, but far less reliable for 
making even simple altitude measurements in the meridian. This no doubt explains 
Digges’s preference for the later Problems. Tycho, on the other hand, considered 
these Problems to be needlessly complicated. He could recommend only Problem 
10, ironically one of those that Digges rejected as ill-suited for practical observation. 
All this Problem requires are the altitudes of the phenomenon at its two, upper and 
lower, meridian transits. The data are easy to obtain if one uses a quadrant, as Tycho 
did, rather than a staff; it is a trivial matter, moreover, to analyse the data and obtain 
the parallax. This is the method that Tycho himself preferred; Tadeas Hajek 
recommended the method, and both the Landgrave of Hessen-Kassel and Paul 
Hainzel had used it to show that the star had no parallax. 24 

Although Digges’s Problems are flawed, they nevertheless show great ingenuity 
in their attempt to overcome the infelicities in Regiomontanus’s methods. As a work 
of theoretical astronomy, and as examples of the geometer’s art, they are quite the 
equal of Regiomontanus’s constructions. It is interesting to note, however - as Tycho 



48 


R. GOULDING 


did several times in his critique - that Digges provides no numerical examples 
based on actual observation of the New Star. 

Digges, indeed, recognized this failing himself, pleading that lack of time and the 
pressure of other commitments had not allowed him to provide practical examples 
for any of the Problems. 25 It seems unlikely, however, that Digges had any examples 
based on observations of the New Star. Despite the wealth of complex observational 
possibilities that he had opened up in his Problems, his own method of observing the 
New Star was much simpler. 

Using the rule of the staff, he says, line the New Star up with two fixed stars in 
the same vertical circle. Some hours later, line the staff up again with the two fixed 
stars. If the New Star appears again on the line joining the two fixed stars, then it is 
unaffected by parallax. 26 

By this means, on many nights, I noted that the miraculous Phenomenon always 
appeared in a straight line with the small star in the knee of Cassiopeia and the other 
star beneath the belt of Cepheus on the right-hand side. 27 

In this solitary description of his observational practice, Digges reveals that he 
did not use the battery of methods he had developed in the Problems. What, after all, 
would be the point when the supra-lunar nature of the star could be demonstrated so 
directly? Indeed, the complexity and number of the constructions suggest that they 
were devised over a period of time far longer than the few weeks since the star had 
appeared in the sky. It does appear, then, that the Problems were not in fact invented 
for the analysis of the New Star. Presumably the interest in parallax that the New 
Star aroused encouraged Digges to publish his results, and inform other astronomers 
of the improvements he had made to the older parallax methods that they were still 
using. But if the new techniques were not developed specifically for the New Star, 
perhaps Digges had another purpose in mind. He himself suggests what this purpose 
might be; but before we examine this, it will be useful to pause and consider 
Digges’s view of the New Star. For, although his treatment of it stands separate from 
his parallax theories, we shall see that ultimately both contribute to a larger project. 

DIGGES ON THE NEW STAR 

Digges wrote two prefaces to his book, the first entitled Praefatio authoris, and the 
second, Proemium . 28 It is only in these two passages that he gives a detailed expo¬ 
sition of his opinions on the New Star; and even here, there are some inconsistencies 
between the two accounts. 

In the Praefatio authoris , Digges condemns the “common opinion” that the star 
is a comet located in the upper atmosphere. He promises instead that 

whoever wears these Platonic or - to use a more accurate expression - Mathematical 
Wings and heads upwards into the ethereal realm, leaving behind entirely the elemental 
regions, will see that [the star] is much further away than the place of the comets. 29 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


49 


As we have seen, Digges found no parallax in the New Star. It was this, together 
with the fact that the apparition lacked a tail, that convinced him that it was not a 
comet but an entirely different phenomenon. To establish just what it was, Digges 
used some curious Aristotelian reasoning to arrive at a very un-Aristotelian con¬ 
clusion. 

Digges sets out to reconcile the mathematically proven fact that the New Star 
was a phenomenon located in the celestial sphere with the Aristotelian physical 
principle that the appearance of something new - indeed, change of any sort - is 
impossible in that part of the universe. He considers, and rejects, the possibility that 
the star could be composed of cometary matter somehow carried up into the celestial 
realm: Aristotle had shown that terrestrial matter could never stray outside its own, 
sublunar sphere. In the end, Digges asserts, there can be no natural cause for such an 
enormous phenomenon (and seeing how very bright it burns, and at such a distance 
from the earth, Digges knows it to be very large - in fact, “bigger than Europe”). 
Therefore, he concludes, the star must be a special creation of God. 

Digges does have another contribution to make concerning the star, however. In 
the months after its first brilliant appearance, the star had grown noticeably dimmer 
(it was eventually to fade away altogether). He again uses an unorthodox line of 
Aristotelian reasoning to explain the apparent change in the new celestial object. He 
accepts, as he did in the previous argument, that no alteration can occur in the 
celestial realm, and extends this dictum to apply to the star as well. If the star is not 
subject to change, then the alteration in its light must be due to an increase in the 
distance between it and the earth - and in the Praefatio he attributes this increase to 
the Copernican motion of the earth around the sun. He writes: 

A handhold has been provided, a particularly opportune chance to test whether the 
motion of the earth assumed in the planetary theories of Copernicus is the sole reason 
why the star has been diminishing in apparent magnitude. 30 

If the star should reach its minimum brightness at the spring equinox, 31 and then 
gradually recover its brightness over the next few months, once again reaching a 
maximum at the autumnal equinox, then, Digges says, we can confidently conclude 
that the earth moves in an annual orbit about the sun. This is a lot to hope for and, 
needless to say, nothing of the sort did happen. Digges’s reasoning is, in any case, 
open to criticism. As Tycho argued, if a New Star could appear in the sky against all 
known physical laws, then there was no reason why it could not also change in 
brightness, in contravention of these same laws. 32 

But it is here that Digges presents an alternative use - perhaps the originally 
intended one - for the parallax Problems that we have examined above. His 
suggestion that the star could be a test-case for the Copernican system is part of a 
larger argument developed in the Praefatio. Digges sets out an ambitious plan to 
reform astronomy, and criticizes the Ptolemaic system both for the methodological 
error of arguing from theory to reality, rather than following the natural order of 
reality to theory, and for the clumsy ad hoc planetary models that arise from this 



50 


R. GOULDING 


inverted procedure. He declares that the key to the reform of astronomy may be 
found in his new parallax methods: 

I perceived that the ancients had proceeded in inverted order: from their invented 
planetary theories they sought the true distances and parallaxes. But they should have 
instead proceeded the other way around, starting with observed and known parallaxes, 
and then considering the planetary theories. 33 

Towards the end of the Praefatio , Digges promises: 

I have attempted, and succeeded, in the various Problems to determine demonstratively, 
practically and precisely the parallax of this Phenomenon and also of any other. 
Although the parallaxes of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are so small as to be hardly 
discernible by our weak senses, if they can be truly detected by any method, then I 
would dare to say that they can be found by means of the following Problems of mine, 
or by no geometric method at all. 34 

In the Ptolemaic system, the distances of the planets from the earth can be set at 
any arbitrary values. 35 The Copernican system, on the other hand, relies on relative 
motions to explain astronomical phenomena. The distances of the planets to one 
another are thus integral to the Copernican system, and Digges praises this 
harmonious arrangement, in contrast to the ill-assorted jumble of arbitrarily sized 
eccentrics and epicycles that made up the Ptolemaic system. 36 The ancients, 
according to Digges, had constructed planetary models, and then used the positions 
predicted by these models to calculate parallax. His programme is to work in the 
opposite direction, finding the absolute distances empirically and individually, using 
the new parallax techniques, and then constructing planetary hypotheses from these 
physical facts. The result, he believes, will be the Copernican system. 37 

Digges was interested in parallax, therefore, because he thought he could use it 
to determine the exact distances of the planets from one another and, in doing so, 
establish the Copernican system on physical data. One assumes that when Digges 
turned to the question of the New Star, he hoped to find even more direct proof of an 
earth in motion around the sun, by finding annual parallax in the phenomenon. 38 
Since, however, he could detect no parallax of any variety in the New Star, he came 
up with another argument, namely, the change in its brightness, that allowed the star 
to be used as proof of the Copernican system. 

It seems, then, that Digges’s complex parallax techniques were not originally 
developed for the investigation of the New Star. His opinion that the star was 
supralunar was based on very simple parallax observations and more general 
considerations of its appearance. He hoped to use both the New Star and the 
parallactic techniques, however, as proofs of the Copernican system. Although the 
parallax techniques were most probably developed before the New Star even 
appeared, in Digges’s mind there seems to have been a link between them. 

DIGGES’S ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF THE NEW STAR 

In the Proemium that follows the Praefatio authoris , Digges appears to contradict 
the arguments he set out in his previous preface, namely that if the star appears to 


PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


51 


change in brightness, it must be because the earth is moving away from it, in its 
annual circuit around the sun. In the Proemium , he seems to maintain that while the 
diminution of the star’s brightness is still due to an increase in the distance between 
it and the earth, the motion is that of the star, and not of the earth: 

This marvellous new Phenomenon which appears in the seat of Cassiopeia seems to 
turn so uniformly around the pole with the other fixed stars that in each revolution it 
returns to shine in exactly the same place, without any discernible discrepancy. In that 
short period of time it is not found to have any motion of its own. I have no doubt, 
however, that this Phenomenon is further from the earth than it was at its first 
appearance; but this recession is so slow and minute that it cannot be detected in a 
single revolution. If you wish to observe other phenomena that do have a sensible 
motion in a single revolution, then you can very easily use arithmetical calculations to 
adjust for the movement in any part of a daily revolution. 39 

The context of Digges’s remarks is the suitability of the New Star for parallactic 
observation. Bodies that have a large motion of their own in a single night present 
the astronomer with a special difficulty. Digges stresses that the star does not have 
any significant, measurable motion that the astronomer would have to take account 
of during a night’s observation. The star does have, however, a very slow motion 
away from the earth. It might be argued that, by “recession” from the earth, Digges 
again means the Copemican motion of the earth itself. The context of the passage, 
however, on the allowances that must be made for the proper motions of bodies, 
makes it more likely that Digges does mean that the star itself is receding, very 
slowly, from the earth. In contrast with the stress laid on the Copemican system in 
the Praefatio, elsewhere in the Proemium he says that the choice of world-system is 
irrelevant to the question of the star’s proper motion. 

This inconsistency between the two prefaces is difficult to explain away as a 
“development” in Digges’s thought, since the Praefatio and the Proemium seem to 
be contemporaneous, both written shortly before the publication of the Alae. One 
explanation, however, may be that while the statements in Digges’s Proemium are 
directly contradictory to those of his Praefatio, they correspond quite closely to the 
thoughts on the star expressed by his “mathematical father”, John Dee. 

DEE ON THE NEW STAR 

Dee’s treatise on the New Star, entitled Parallaticae commentationis praxeosque 
nucleus quidam, is less substantial than Digges’s work, both in size and 
mathematical ambition. 40 In his short preface to the Nucleus , Dee expresses no 
opinion on the nature of the New Star; his ideas about it can, however, be recon¬ 
structed from other sources. There is, for instance, an account and critique of Dee’s 
theory in the works of Tycho Brahe. 41 Tycho, in his Progymnasmata , recounts a 
letter he received from Christoph Rothmann, the court astronomer of the Landgrave 
of Hessen-Kassel. Rothmann had met Dee when the latter passed through the 
Landgrave’s court at Kassel on his return to England in 1589. Rothmann was 
familiar with Dee and Digges’s works on parallax, and naturally he asked Dee his 
opinion of the New Star. Rothmann reported to Tycho that in Dee’s opinion, the 
New Star was certainly “within the ambit of the universe” - that is, below the fixed 



52 


R. GOULDING 


stars, or among the planetary orbs. It had not, however, always maintained the same 
distance from the earth. Dee believed that the star had moved in a straight line, 
slowly and gradually, from a lower position to a higher one. This is the same theory, 
of course, that Digges put forward in his Proemium. 

Tycho notes that Cornelius Gemma (the son of Dee’s old Louvain friend, 
Gemma Frisius) had arrived at a very similar model, but that neither Gemma’s 
model nor Dee’s seems very convincing to him. While he concurs in the Aristotelian 
objection to rectilinear motion in the celestial realm, he finds even stronger 
astronomical reasons to reject both men’s theories. Dee’s assertion should have been 
supported by parallactic observation; that is, only if he had found that the parallax of 
the star steadily decreased during its period of visibility, says Tycho, could he have 
argued that the star was moving away from the earth. But in fact no parallax had 
ever been observed in the star. Instead, Dee had made the case for the star’s 
movement away from the earth on the grounds that it had diminished in brightness 
over time. 

To refute this claim, Tycho refers the reader to his criticism of Cornelius 
Gemma. 42 He assumes that Dee’s theory is similar to that of Gemma, who had 
argued that the star first appeared above the sphere of Saturn, among the fixed stars, 
and was then drawn up through the ninth and tenth spheres - the “empty” spheres 
that were the supposed causes of the diurnal motion and the precession of the 
equinoxes. Tycho pointed out that, if the star had been reduced from the first 
magnitude to invisibility solely by rectilinear movement, it would have had to travel 
far beyond the eighth sphere - over a distance many times that between the earth 
and the eighth sphere. This would extend the size of the universe far beyond its 
usually accepted dimensions. When arguing against Dee, Tycho repeats the 
objection, saying that in order to explain the reduction of the star’s brightness from 
the first magnitude to even the sixth, given its starting point above the sphere of 
Saturn, the star would have had to travel 300,000 earth diameters out into space. (He 
does not specify his method of calculation.) This makes the universe too large even 
to contemplate. 43 

A few other pieces of evidence for Dee’s views on the nature of the star remain, 
more trustworthy than Tycho’s second-hand report. In his Compendious Rehearsal , 
Dee lists the title of another book he wrote on the New Star, which he says he 
composed in 1573 (this book is now lost): 

On the marvellous star in Cassiopeia, sent down from heaven all the way to the sphere 
of Venus, and then drawn up again perpendicularly into the depths of the heavens 
sixteen months after its first appearance. 44 

From its title alone we can tell that the book could not have been completed in 
1573. Dee refers to the disappearance of the star “sixteen months after its first 
appearance”, that is, in 1574, and this is the more likely year of composition. The 
title reaffirms Dee’s opinion that the star disappeared because it moved rectilinearly 
away from the earth. This is further supported by information given by William 
Camden: 


I do not know whether it is worthwhile to rehearse what all the historians of our age 
have recorded, that in November [of 1572] a New Star or, if you prefer, a Phenomenon 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


53 


was seen in the throne of Cassiopeia [...] carried about by the diurnal motion of the sky, 
it remained in the same place for sixteen months. It was in the celestial region, not 
elemental, as those noble mathematicians of our land John Dee and Thomas Digges 
have learnedly demonstrated by the parallactic doctrine; they were of the opinion that it 
gradually disappeared by ascending. Indeed, after the eighth month everyone noticed 
that it was gradually weakening. 45 

Dee mentions, in the Compendious Rehearsal , another book of his which surely 
concerned the New Star: a pamphlet entitled Hipparchus redivivus - “Hipparchus 
reborn” - and also written in 1573. 46 As Calder has argued, Dee is perhaps alluding 
in the title to the ancient tradition that Hipparchus had seen a new star appear in the 
heavens; Dee’s book would thus be another account of the nature of the New Star. 47 
It may equally be an allusion to Hipparchus’s invention of parallax techniques and 
his measurement of the distances of the sun and moon from the earth, which would 
suggest that Dee’s lost work concerned the use of parallax. On either interpretation, 
the book dealt with something promised by, but missing from, the published 
Nucleus. 


DEE ON PARALLAX 

Dee’s Nucleus, like Digges’s Alae , purports to treat the subject of the New Star. We 
have already seen, however, that Dee’s preface barely mentions the New Star at all, 
and that his opinion of it has to be deduced from other sources. The body of Dee’s 
tract likewise has little specific to say on the subject of the New Star. As with 
Digges, Dee seems to be in a rush to publish older research, directed towards a 
different practical goal, with promises to treat the New Star more specifically, at a 
later date. 

The work opens with a short preface by Digges, which we shall examine below. 
Dee follows with his own preface, which explains the method employed in the work 
as well as his reasons for publishing it. Parallax problems are necessary, he says, 
because the ideal situation enjoyed by Ptolemy in his measurement of the moon’s 
parallax cannot usually be obtained. But, he argues, despite the difficulty in 
measuring the parallax of other phenomena, they can all in fact be reduced to two 
basic cases: either the sum, or the difference, of the parallaxes from two 
observations is known; in both cases, the astronomer must then discover the 
individual value of each of the two parallaxes. 48 

In the body of the Nucleus, Dee does indeed proceed on the assumption that all 
attempts to measure parallax concern either the sum or the difference of two 
parallaxes derived from two distinct observations. He shows how the astronomer, 
having determined this combined parallax (by unspecified means), should then go 
about distinguishing the values of the individual parallaxes. 

After two preliminary theorems, of little interest, Dee produces the centrepiece 
of his parallactic method in the third and final theorem: 

In any two different parallaxes of the same star or similar phenomenon (provided that it 
is perceived to be moved only by the daily motion of the universe), the ratio of the sine 



54 


R. GOULDING 


of the greater parallax to the sine of the smaller will be as the ratio of the sine of the 
greater apparent angular distance from the zenith to the sine of the smaller. 49 



E 


B 

A 


Figure 1 , then, where A is the centre of the earth, B the observer, C and D the two 
observations of the star, and E the zenith, Dee shows that: 

sin ACB _ sin EBC 
sin ADB sin EBD 

As Dee points out at the end of his proof, it is not necessary to make the two 
sightings in the same vertical circle. One can, therefore, take two observations of the 
zenith distance of the phenomenon anywhere in the heavens, and obtain the 
proportion of the parallaxes. 

In the second “porism” to this theorem, Dee provides the method of separating 
“combined parallax” that he promised in the preface. If, he says, the astronomer 
knows the ratio of the parallaxes (which, as we have seen, he can obtain from the 
zenith distances) and, somehow, the sum of the parallaxes, then the individual 
parallaxes can be found. He takes his method from Regiomontanus’s De triangulis 
omnimodis IV, 21, which itself is a version of the second lemma in Ptolemy, 
Almagest 1.10. This trigonometrical theorem shows how to divide a single arc of a 
circle into two arcs, the sines of which are in a given ratio. 

Dee thus gives a very general account of parallax. Whereas Digges lays down 
certain observational conditions, and provides a specific parallactic construction, 
Dee is concerned with the general principles, 50 and leaves the specifics to a later 
date: 


Likewise, from the properties that have been demonstrated in this way, I shall more 
fully explain what other kinds of Theorems and Problems, necessary to my project, can 
be advanced and proven, in the book that we have decided to write, God willing, on this 
marvellous Phenomenon. 51 

Here is the same curious omission that we noticed in Digges. There is no appli¬ 
cation of the parallactic methods to the New Star. Dee, like Digges, pleads occu¬ 
pation with too many other matters to write up his results on the star and, as we have 
seen, promises a book on the subject. 52 Again, it appears that Dee had developed the 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


55 


parallactic methods for another purpose - and below we shall argue that they 
represent part of Dee’s attempt to establish a mathematically precise, naturalistic 
science of astrology, specifically, by establishing the correct distances from the earth 
to celestial and terrestrial objects. 

DEE’S ASTROLOGICAL PHYSICS 

Dee had first expressed an interest in the problem of celestial distances some fifteen 
years earlier, in his Propaedeumata Aphoristica. 53 In this very obscure work, he tries 
to find exact mathematical, and naturalistic, principles on which to build a theory of 
astrological influences. 54 When in Louvain in 1548-9, Mercator and others had asked 
Dee to move beyond the common study of astrological effects and to consider the 
causes of these effects. 55 Dee found his solution in medieval optical writings, 
particularly those of Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste. 

It was clear to Dee that the influence of heavenly bodies over the earth was 
propagated in straight lines, in a manner identical to the transmission of light. 
Although a planet emitted occult rays uniformly in all directions, only a part of these 
reached any one observer. Following Bacon, Dee reasoned that only those rays that 
reached the observer’s eye would have any influence. These were the rays 
circumscribed in the volume of a cone whose apex was at the observer P (see Figure 
2), and whose base was the portion of the planet visible from P. 



Figure 2. 

Every point P on earth would form the apex of a collection of cones extending 
from the planets and other bodies, whose shape and size would be unique for that 
location and moment in time. This seemed the perfect mechanism for explaining 
astrological influence and its manifold effects throughout the world. To find the 
precise astrological influences operating at a particular time and place, the astrologer 
therefore had to measure the cones of influence. 56 Dee spelled out in two aphorisms 
what was required: 

XXX. The true sizes not only of the terrestrial globe but also of the planets and all the 
fixed stars ought to be known to the astrologer. 



56 


R. GOULDING 


XXXI. The true distances of the fixed stars and each of the planets from the centre of 
the earth at any given time should be determined by the astrologer, as also the varying 
altitudes of clouds or the thicker air above the earth. 57 

Dee does not specifically mention parallax in the Propaedeumata, but it is clear 
that the precise measurement of planetary distances and dimensions he demands 
would have required parallactic observation. In fact, in his preface to the Propae¬ 
deumata, he lists several books that he intended to publish when he had the time; 
among them is a work whose title suggests that, at this early date, Dee was not only 
interested in celestial distances, but had worked on the mathematical techniques 
needed to measure them: 

Concerning the distances of planets, fixed stars and clouds from the centre of the 
earth, and concerning the discovery of the true magnitudes of all the stars: a 
[mathematical] demonstration in two books. 58 

In both aphorism XXXI and in the title of his unpublished book, Dee mentions 
the distances of ‘clouds’ ( nubes ). In his effort to find a mathematically precise 
description of celestial influences, he may be intending to take into account the 
atmospheric obstructions to the planetary rays. Alternatively, by the word nubes he 
may be referring to that most portentous of meteorological phenomena: comets. 

It is clear, then, that Dee had been working on the problem of celestial distances 
from the 1550s, or even the late 1540s. His interest was directly linked to his 
ambitious programme to set astrology upon a solid, naturalistic foundation, in which 
it would be essential to know the true distances and sizes of the planets, stars and 
other celestial objects. There is evidence, moreover, that Dee’s interest in celestial 
distances lasted long after the first publication of the Propaedeumata. In 1568 he 
revised and republished the work; and in his Mathematicall Praeface to Henry 
Billingsley’s 1570 English translation of Euclid, Dee expressed some views on 
astronomy and astrology closely related to his ideas in the Propaedeumata. 

In the Praeface Dee classified astronomy and astrology as part of the series of 
auxiliary, practical sciences. The highest rank in this group he gave to perspective. 
This is hardly surprising since he extended the definition of perspective far beyond 
its usual ambit. It embraces not only the ancient science of optics, as we might 
expect, but also “catoptrics”, or the study of lenses and mirrors. Both study the 
propagation of light in straight lines, and the effects produced by these beams either 
naturally or artificially. But this is not the limit of Dee’s “perspective”: 

It concemeth all Creatures, all Actions, and passions, by Emanation of beames 
perfourmed. Beames, or naturall lines, (here) I mean, not of light onely, or of colour [...] 
but also of other Formes, both Substantiall and Accidentall. 59 

Dee’s definition of astronomy is equally idiosyncratic. Most contemporary astro¬ 
nomers divided astronomy into two component disciplines: the elementary grounding 
of the “sphere”, which accounted for the diurnal movements of the heavens, the 
rising and setting of the sun and stars, the seasons and so forth; and (the main pre¬ 
occupation of astronomers) the theory of the planets, which used “hypotheses” of 
circular motions to account for the observed progressions and retrogressions of the 
planets. While Dee’s definition overlapped with the common understanding of 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


57 


astronomy in several places, there was an element that was distinctively his, and 
which recalls his insistence in the Propaedeumata that scholars should establish the 
proper sizes and distances of celestial bodies. 

Astronomie is an Arte Mathematical!, which demonstrateth the distance, magnitudes, 
and all naturall motions, apparences, and passions propre to the Planets and fixed 
Sterres [...]. By this Arte we are certified of the distance of the Starry Skye, and of eche 
Planete from the Centre of the Earth: and of the greatnes of any Fixed starre sene, or 
Planete, in respect of the Earthes greatnes. 60 

While other astronomers might consider parallax to be a useful tool in certain 
situations - especially during the appearance of a comet - Dee makes it practically 
the foundation and central concern of astronomy. 

He considers astrology separately from astronomy, not as an art inferior to or 
derivative of astronomy, but as a great discipline founded on the mastery of many 
sciences. Expertise in astronomy is, of course, required; but the astrologer must also 
be an adept of perspective, cosmography, natural philosophy and more. It is not 
enough to learn the conventional meanings of planetary configurations. Dee cites 
with approval the opinion of the philosophers that the astrologer must investigate 
and discover the impressions which the celestial bodies make upon all earthly 
things. But even this is not sufficient; the astrologer should consider 

Not onley (by Apotelesmes), to on but by Naturall and Mathematicall demonstration 
to SiOTi. 61 Whereunto, what Sciences are requisite (without exception) I partly haue 
here warned: And in my Propaedeumes (besides other matter there disclosed) I haue 
Mathematically furnished vp the whole Method [...]. I was (for 21 yeares ago) 62 by 
certaine earnest disputations, of the Learned Gerardus Mercator, and Antonius Gogaua 
(and other,) therto so prouoked: and (by my constant and inuincible zeal to the veritie) 
in observations of Heauenly Influencies (to the Minute of time) than, so diligent. 63 

Here Dee explicitly links his programme for astrology with that presented in the 
Propaedeumata. Astrology, in short, is not only the study of the effects of the 
planets upon the earth; it is the investigation of the causes of these influences, using 
the tools of astronomy, natural philosophy and perspective. 

In the Mathematicall Praeface , Dee stresses the interrelationship of perspective, 
astronomy and astrology. Perspective is the study of all influences that propagate in 
straight lines: not only light, but also the occult “substantial” and “accidental 
forms”. Astronomy is a science founded on perspective and is principally about 
parallactic measurement. Astrology, finally, draws upon astronomy and perspective 
(as defined in Dee’s peculiar sense) to discover the causes and mechanisms of 
celestial influence. Dee is restating, for a popular audience, his arguments for a 
naturalistic astrology, which he had first presented in the Propaedeumata of 1558, 
and had restated in the revised edition of this work only two years previously. 

It seems, then, that Dee retained his preoccupations with astrology and celestial 
distances into the 1570s - and this is confirmed by the postscript to the Nucleus. He 
marvels at the aid that Nature herself, in the form of the diameter of the earth, has 
provided for the investigation of the heavens. But the use of the parallactic method 
is not limited to the investigation of the New Star: 



58 


R. GOULDING 


If you are willing to apply yourself to this [method] with concentration, care and love 
for the truth, then you will be able to join me in bearing unassailable witness to students 
of the truth, of how incredible is the situation and nature of this celestial phenomenon; 
moreover, you will also become much more informed in discovering innumerable other 
facts about the causes, locations, distances, magnitudes, stations and motions of all 
celestial and subcelestial phenomena. I would hope that this most beautiful part of 
philosophy will be complete before all the predicted consequences of this marvellous 
herald (which seems to me to portend in a variety of ways) are unfolded into actual 

, 64 

events. 

The parallax techniques, then, were to be used as the principal tool of investi¬ 
gation of the heavenly bodies. Recall Dee’s concern in the Propaedeumata and in 
the Mathematicall Praeface that the correct distances of the planets be established; 
also recall from the former work, and from his unpublished treatise on parallax, that 
nubes - meaning either obstacles to the celestial influences, or comets - were to be 
investigated. Perhaps he included these under the rubric of “subcelestial 
phenomena.” In any case, there is no doubt that the parallax techniques that Dee 
presented in the Nucleus had a pedigree that long predated the appearance of the 
New Star. 


DEE AND DIGGES IN COLLABORATION 

How, finally, did the two astronomers come to publish their works together? 65 In his 
preface to the Nucleus , Dee explains why he was publishing his pamphlet on 
parallax in tandem with Digges’s weightier contribution. Before Digges had ever 
mentioned his own treatise (and, one presumes, long before the appearance of the 
New Star), Dee says that he and his “mathematical heir” had met frequently at Dee’s 
house and discussed the development of new methods for the measurement of 
parallax. Dee was surprised, however, when at the end of February 1573, Digges 
arrived at his house with the finished text of his Alae ready for the printer. Digges 
was filled with confidence in the value of his treatise, as Dee describes: 

[Digges] added that he had good reason for publishing his book: he would free me from 
the burden of writing anything on this subject; furthermore, he would send out in 
advance works that would shed light, by his own industry, on my more dense writings 
on this and similar subjects. Finally, his writings would create more, and more 
trustworthy, observers, since [his readers] would be taught to observe this 
unprecedented spectacle (which still shines in the heavens) methodically, with an 
educated and mathematical eye. 66 

It is most interesting that Digges, at least in an attempt to gain Dee’s interest, 
maintains that the purpose of his Alae was to illuminate Dee’s more obscure writings 
on parallax. Dee had not published anything specifically on parallax techniques: 
there were only his references to the measurement of celestial distances in the 
Propaedeumata , the work that Digges is surely referring to here. We might presume, 
then, that the discussions on parallax that the two men had held at Dee’s house were 
stimulated by Dee’s continuing interest in a naturalistic physics of astrological 
influences. Whether Digges shared this interest is another question, but we should 
not be surprised that Dee should have asked his mathematical heir to consider 
methods to find the correct distances of the planets. It appears that Dee’s interest in 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


59 


planetary distance coincided, by chance, with Digges’s preoccupation with the same 
subject on quite different grounds, namely, the establishment of Copernicanism. 

There seems to be an element of gentle mockery in Dee’s description of his 
young collaborator’s self-confidence. Dee writes that he does not want to seem 
merely one who praises another’s accomplishments, and that he therefore revealed 
to Digges that he too had been working on parallax theorems of his own, which 
would be of great value in educating the public: 

I was unwilling to keep these Theorems locked up any longer in our study (where they 
had recently been conceived). Instead, I wanted to publish them immediately, although 
they are extracted from a certain book of mine that is not yet finished. In this way they 
might be useful to mathematicians, at least until our other writings in this philosophical 
genre are ready to appear. 67 

This unfinished work, from which the Theorems of the Nucleus were extracted, 
could be any of the unfinished works on parallax that Dee has mentioned - either the 
De planetarum [...] distantiis of the early 1550s, or the work that, perhaps, recorded 
Dee’s latest thoughts on parallax, the Hipparchus redivivus . 68 

Dee’s account of their collaboration in the Nucleus contradicts the version of the 
same events given in Digges’s preface to Dee’s tract. There, Digges says that he had 
allowed Dee to publish the Nucleus as an appendix to the Alae. Dee’s Theorem III, 
he says, provides nothing new for the reader of the Alae , and indeed can be derived 
from Digges’s eleventh problem. However, Digges concedes, it would be against 
natural justice if Dee should publish his work at a later date (recalling that the 
Theorems were extracted from a larger, unfinished work), only to find that the 
public presumed they were plagiarised from Digges. Besides, Digges adds, Dee’s 
Theorem is suitable for novices who cannot yet grasp the Problems. 69 

Although the master and his protege engaged in this good-natured rivalry, there 
was no doubt that it had been left to Dee to write the final account of the New Star. 
In the Alae, Digges frequently mentions Dee’s intention to publish their obser¬ 
vations and conclusions on the star, and often uses this to excuse himself for saying 
so little on the subject. In the Praefatio authoris , for example, he stops himself from 
getting too carried away with his theories on the phenomenon: 

But I have resolved not to write anything more on the history of this star, because that 
extraordinary man John Dee - most learned in these studies and a prodigy in the rest of 
philosophy, whom I esteem as my second Mathematical Father - has taken on the task 
of expounding this material, and I have no doubt that it will soon be published. 70 

It is to our frustration that Digges had such confidence in Dee’s intentions to 
publish their material. 



60 


R. GOULDING 


NOTES 


1 Bartolomaeus Raisacheras, De mirabili Novae ac splendidissimae Stellae [...] Phaenomeno (Vienna, 
1573), sig. A3 rv (from the prooemium ): “Est igitur apparentia ilia corpus quoddam luminosum 
splendidum, quantitate Stellas primae magnitudinis adaequans, aliquas etiam exuperans, calore ex 
candido ac aureo fulvescenti Iovem, subrutilanti autem Martem Chronicum quodammodo referens, in 
parte ilia septentrionali, et circa polum arcticum in imagine Cassiopaeae, singulis noctibus, ab aliquot 
nunc mensibus sese ostendens, motu autem saltern unico, eoque diumo, in eadem cum reliquis stellis 
circumstantibus semper distantia, per sese autem immobile, circum polum se revolvens.” 

2 The remnants of the event are detectable today as X-ray source Oep. XR-1, or “Tycho’s Supernova”. 

3 Aristotle, Meteora, 344a9-344bl8. See Clarisse Doris Heilman, The Comet of 1577: Its Place in the 
History of Astronomy , Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, 510 (New York: Columbia 
University Press, 1944), 19-23. 

4 Otto Neugebauer, History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy (Berlin: Springer Valley, 1975), 322-9. 

5 Neugebauer, 100-112. See also Janice Adrienne Henderson, On the Distances between the Sun, Moon 
and Earth according to Ptolemy, Copernicus and Reinhold (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1991). 

6 See Henderson, On the Distances, 17-18. The term ‘p ara U a x’ should perhaps be qualified as diurnal 
parallax, to distinguish it from annual parallax, used by modem astronomers, which describes the 
apparent change of position of a star owing to the annual motion of the earth. 

7 This is a simplification; because he did not have an accurate way of dealing with refraction, Ptolemy 
avoided the absolute lowest point of the moon’s cycle. A full exposition of Ptolemy’s method is in 
Henderson, On the Distances, 21-6. 

8 Johannes Regiomontanus, De cometae magnitudine, longitudineque ac de loco eius vero, problemata 
XVI (Nuremberg, 1531). A second edition was published as part of the Scripta clarissimi mathematici M. 
Ioannis Regiomontani (Nuremberg, 1544). A translation and commentary on this work is given in Jane L. 
Jervis, Cometary Theory in Fifteenth-Century Europe (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1985). 

9 Regiomontanus’s first problem states the general principle of diurnal parallax, in much the same terms 
as we have expressed it above. Problems II to V directly concern the measurement of cometary parallax; 
Problems VI to VIII consider the effect of parallax in various coordinate systems; Problems IX to XVI 
are a miscellany, dealing with observational techniques (including a description of the cross-staff) and the 
analysis of parallactic data to find the distance of a comet from the earth and thence its true length and 
even its volume. 

10 Regiomontanus, De cometis (1531), fol. 3 r : “Notanda est altitudo Cometae antemeridiana vel post- 
meridiana cum arcu azimuth eius, instansque huiusmodi observationis animadvertendum est, sed et 
instans quo Cometa ipse meridianum possidet non est negligendum, quod facile fiet per observationem 
cuiuspiam stellae fixae locum notum habentis.” Translation by Jane L. Jervis, Cometary Theory, 100, 
with facsimile of the original at 179. 

11 Jervis, Cometary Theory, 99-100. 

12 Thaddaeus Hagecius, Dialexis de novae etprius incognitae stellae [...] apparitione [...] (Frankfurt am 
Main, 1574), 62-4. 

13 Hagecius, Dialexis, 66-72. 

14 Tycho Brahe, Astronomiae instauratae progymnasmata, in John Louis Emil Dreyer, ed., Tychonis 
Brahe Dani Opera omnia, 15 vols (Hven, 1913-1929), III, 63. 

15 Alae\ Parallaticae. For reasons that we shall see below, the two works were published together, and are 
usually bound into a single volume. Digges refers to Dee’s work in the prefatory material to his own 
volume, and provided a brief preface to Dee’s treatise. On both works see JDEP, 667-71. 

16 He criticizes Regiomontanus several times in the work (at, for instance, sigs A3 V , H3 V , L2 r , but 
especially at B2 r , where he identifies the principal problem as the measurement of time. The use of clocks 
is not even worth considering, so inaccurate are they; and even the measurement of time by reference 
stars is rejected because of the necessity of making several simultaneous observations. 

17 Brahe, “Astronomiae”, III, 167-203. 

18 Brahe, “Astronomiae”, III, 169. 

19 Brahe, “Astronomiae”, III, 201: “Decimum octavum, iusto pluribus praesuppositis intricatur, quae non 
facile absque omni erroris suspicione offeruntur.” 

20 Brahe, “Astronomiae”, III, 200-201. 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


61 


21 Alae, sig. Ll r : “Omnino Praxi non convenit, quamvis Demonstratio perfectissima sit.” 

22 Alae, sig. Ll v : “perfectissime et liquidissime veras Parallaxeis enucleabunt.” 

23 See his notes on observation at Alae, sig. Il r -4 r . 

24 Brahe, “Astronomiae”, 200; Hagecius, Dialexis 66-72. 

25 Alae, sig. K4 r . 

26 He adds that, if it is no longer on the same line, then the amount of parallax can be determined by his 
sixteenth Problem. But since the New Star always appeared in the same line, this is in fact superfluous. 

27 Alae, sig. K3 V : “Hac ratione plurimis noctibus animadverti Phaenomenon istud mirabile, in una 
apparere recta linea cum ea stellula quae in genu Cassiopeae, et altera quae in latere dextro Cephei sub 
Cingulo est.” 

28 Alae, sigs AT-BT and Bl v -B3 r . 

29 Alae, sig. Al v : “At qui Platonicis, seu ut verius loquar Mathematicis istis instructus Alis, sursum in 
Aethera contendat, Elementaribusque prorsus Regionibus traiectis, longe remotiorem Cometarum locis 
esse perspexerit.” 

30 Alae, sig. A3 r : “ansam oblatam esse, et occasionem maxime opportunam experiendi an Terrae motus in 
Copemici Theoricis suppositus, sola causa siet [sic] cur haec Stella magnitudine apparante minuatur.” 

31 The star was situated very close to the great circle through the spring equinox and the celestial poles. 
When the sun is at the spring equinox, according to the Copemican theory, the earth is at the vernal 
equinox, and thus at its maximum distance from the spring equinox. The Praefatio is dated February 
1573, a month before the equinox. 

32 Brahe, “Astronomiae”, III, 172. 

33 Alae, sig. A2 V : “Praepostere etiam Antiquos progredi perspexi ex Theoricis scilicet fictis Parallaxeis et 
distantias venari veras, cum inverso ordine procedere potius debuissent, et ex Parallaxibus observatis et 
cognitis, Theoricas examinare.” 

34 Alae, sig. A4 V : “Conatus igitur sum et assequutus, variis Problematibus demonstrative, et practice 
exactissime Parallaxin huius Phoenomeni et cuiusvis etiam alterius concludere, licet Satumi, Iovis, et 
Martis, Parallaxeis adeo sint exigue, ut sensuum imbecillitate vix discemi possint, Si tamen ulla arte vere 
animadverti queant (hoc ausim dicere) aut his nostris sequentibus problematibus, aut nullis penitus 
praeceptis Geometricis inveniri possint.” 

35 Values were known for the distance of the moon and the sun. For each of the other planets, the 
deferent, or principal circle was scaled so that the uppermost extent of one planet’s epicycle coincided 
with the lowermost extent of the next highest planet’s epicycle. In effect, the planetary mechanisms were 
fitted like layers of an onion between and around the layers of the sun and moon. It is important to note 
that this arrangement was entirely arbitrary, and the same planetary motions would be observed whatever 
the scale chosen for the deferents and epicycles. An account of the origins of this arrangement can be 
found in Olaf Pedersen, A Survey of the Almagest (Odense: Odense Universitetsforlag, 1974), 391-7. 

36 Alae, sigs A2 v -A3 r . See Henderson, On the Distances, 93-9; also 4-5 on the different role of the solar 
distance in the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems. 

37 Alae, sig. A4 V , 

38 Although annual parallax is not mentioned in the Praefatio authoris, it was clearly on Digges’s mind at 
the time, as he makes clear in a passage towards the end of the volume: “Concerning these matters [sc. 
diurnal parallaxes] and others hitherto unheard of, and about an easy method of investigating them with a 
new kind of instrument, I shall, God willing, perhaps expound more fully at a later date, if these first 
writings meet with approval. I shall also expound upon other parallaxes, which no one to this date has 
discussed, and which few know of, or even believe in. I mean those parallaxes which occur not because 
of the distance of our place of observation from the centre of the earth, but which happen through the 
different positions of the centre of the earth itself.” (Alae, sig. K4 r : “De his autem aliisque hactenus 
inauditis, facillima ratione per Instrumentum novum perscrutandis, fusius forsitan posthac, si ista exordia 
placere intellexerimus, Deo annuente, disseremus. Deque Parallaxibus aliis hactenus a nemine tractatis, a 
paucissimis cognitis aut saltern creditis; iis scilicet, quae contingunt non propter visus nostri a Terrae 
centra deviationem, sed per varios ipsius centri situs.”). 

39 Alae, sigs Bl v -B2 r : “Phoenomenon admirabile novum in Cassiopaea sede conspicuum, adeo 
uniformiter circa Polum volvi cum caeteris fixis videtur, ut singulis revolutionibus ad eadem loca absque 
ulla differentia sensibili quam exactissime ardeat, neque ullum motum peculiarem tantulo tempore habere 




62 


R. GOULDING 


cernitur. Nihil tamen dubito remotius esse istud Phoenomenon a terra quam prima apparitione fiierat, sed 
haec elongatio adeo lenta et exigua est ut unica revolutione omnino non sentiatur. Et si Phoenomena alia 
observare volueris quae motum sensibilem unica revolutione habeant, ea animadversa, poterit facillime 
Arithmeticis supputationibus, ad partem revolutionis quamcunque accommodari.” 

40 By “nucleus”, Dee means to suggest that he has broken through the “hard shell” of parallax, and now 
presents the reader with the essential, digestible kernel: Parallaticae, sig. Aiii v ; Digges gives a similar 
explanation in his preface to Parallaticae , at sig. Aii r . 

41 Brahe, “Astronomiae”, III, 204-5. 

42 Tycho’s critique of Gemma is at Brahe, “Astronomiae”, III, 67-87; esp. 77-9, on the decrease of the 
star’s brilliance. 

43 Johnson and Larkey have argued, on the other hand, that it might be the very immensity of the 
movement required to reduce the star’s great brilliance that inspired Digges’s conception of the infinite 
universe. See F. R. Johnson and S. V. Larkey, “Thomas Digges, the Copemican System, and the Idea of 
the Infinity of the universe in 1576,” The Huntington Library Bulletin, 5 (1934): 69-117, esp. 113. 

44 J. Crossley, Autobiographical Tracts of Dr John Dee (Manchester, 1851), 25: “11: De Stella admiranda 
in Cassiopeiae asterismo, coelitus demissa ad orbem usque Veneris, iterumque in coeli penetralia 
perpendiculariter retracta, post decimum sextum suae apparitionis mensem. Lib. 3. A. 1573.” See also 
NP, 287, n.2. Dee may have chosen the sphere of Venus for the star’s location because of the physical 
resemblance of the New Star to the planet Venus at its first appearance; Cornelius Gemma, for instance, 
named it “Phosphorus alter”. 

45 William Camden, Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum Annales (Oxford, 1717), 272: “Nescio an 
operae pretium sit memorare, quod historici nostri temporis omnes memorarunt, mense Novembri novam 
stellam, aut, si mavis, Phaenomenum conspectum fiiisse in Cathedra Asterismi Cassiopeae [...] eodem 
loco diumo coeli motu circumlata, totos sedecim menses haesit. In coelesti, non elementari regione 
exstitisse, ex Parallactica doctrina Thomas Digseius et Joannes Deius, nobiles apud nos Mathematici, 
erudite demonstrarunt, sensimque ascendendo disparere opinati sunt. Post octavum sane mensem 
paulatim extenuari omnes senserunt.” 

46 Crossley , Autobiographical Tracts, 25: “12: Hipparchus redivivus, tractatulus, 1573.” 

A1 JDEP,61\. 

48 Parallaticae, sig. Aii v . Compare the similar approach of Hagecius’s meridian method, where the two 
observations on the meridian are used to find the combined parallaxes, which are then separated by an 
approximate method, using a table. See Hagecius, Dialexis, 65-73. 

49 Parallaticae, sig. Biii r : “In duabus quibuscunque diversis, eiusdem Stellae similisve Phaenomeni, 
Parallaxibus (modo interea, diumo Totius solum ferri concipiatur motu) eadem ratio erit sinus recti 
maioris Parallaxeos, ad sinum rectum minoris, quae est sinus recti maioris a vertice distantiae apparentis, 
ad minoris distantiae apparentis sinum rectum.” 

50 It is interesting to note that a seventeenth-century writer saw, and made use of, this complementarity 
between the two works. Richard Holland used Digges’s Problems for specific observational conditions; 
instead of following the whole of Digges’s procedure, however, Holland used his constmction only until 
the sum or difference of the parallaxes could be found. He then used Dee’s theorem to separate the 
parallaxes. See Richard Holland, Notes shewing how to get the angle of Parallax of a comet or other 
Phaenomenon, at two observations; To be taken in any one Station or Place of the Earth, and thereby the 
distance from the Earth (Oxford, 1668). 

51 Parallaticae, sig. Diiii r : “Similiter, ex proprietatibus hisce sic [...] demonstratis qualia inferri, 
demonstrarique alia possint, turn Theoremata, turn Problemata (ad nostmm institutum necessaria) fusius 
explicabimus in eo, quern (Deo favente) de Phaenomeno isto mirabili, edere statuimus libro.” 

52 Parallaticae, sig. Diiifi. 

53 PA. 

54 The central significance of the Propaedeumata in Dee’s philosophy, and its connection with medieval 
optical theory is demonstrated in Nicholas H. Clulee, “Astrology, Magic and Optics: Facets of John 
Dee’s Early Natural Philosophy”, Renaissance Quarterly, 30 (1977): 632-80; and NP, esp. 39-73. 



PARALLACTIC TREATISES 


63 


55 MP, sig. biii v 

56 Because of a discrepancy in his sources (Bacon and Grosseteste) for this idea, however, Dee was 
unclear whether a short, stout cone or a long narrow one represented a stronger planetary influence. See 
NP, 49-50. 

57 “XXX. Magnitudines verae non solum terrestris globi, sed & planetarum fixarumque omnium 
stellarum, astrologo debent esse notae. XXXI. Distantiae verae tarn fixarum, quam singulorum 
planetarum a centro terrae quocunque proposito tempore, astrologo constare debent: sicut & nubium, sive 
crassioris aeris, variae a terra altitudines.” PA, 136-7. 

58 “De Planetarum, Inerrantium stellarum, Nubiumque a centro terrae distantiis: & stellarum omnium 
veris inveniendis magnitudinibus, lib. 2. demonst.”/M, 116-117. 

59 MP, sig. bi r . Clulee identifies the “Formes, both Substantiall and AccidentaH” as synonymous with 
occult influences, in Clulee, “Astrology, Magic and Optics”, 654. 

60 MP, sig. bi v -ii r . Dee furnishes the example of the ancient measurement of the distances and sizes of the 
sun and moon. 

61 “to on” - “the fact that”, or effects, “to 5ioti” - “the why”, or causes. These are standard logical 
terms, taken from Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, 89b24. 

62 Comment printed in the margin: “ Ann o 1548 and 1549 in Louayn.” 

63 MP, sig. biii v -iiii r . 

64 Parallaticae, sig. Diiii v : “Cui si, de caetero, accurate, caute, et cpiAaA/qGax;, incumbere velitis: non 
solum Coelestis huius Phaenomeni, quam sit incredibilis Dispositio, Conditioque, una mecum veritatis 
studiosis, testatissimum reddere poteritis: Sed, ad quam plurima eruenda alia, circa Coelestium 
quorumcumque vel Subcoelestium Phaenomenorum Causas, Loca, Distantias, Magnitudines, Stationes, 
Motionesve, longe instructions evadetis. Quam pulcherrimam Philosophiae partem (mortalibus summe 
necessariam) omnibus suis numeris, ante, absolvendam fore speramus, quam universa huius admirandi 
Prodromi (quae vario nobis videtur innuere modo) rebus ipsis, explicata pandentur Apotelesmata.” 

65 The works were actually published by two different printers: Digges’s work by Thomas Marsh, in late 
February 1573; and Dee’s by JohnDaye, in March 1573. These were the usual printers of the men’s tracts. 
The references in the prefatory material and in the body of the works to each other’s writings do imply, 
however, that the two tracts were meant to appear in a single volume. See JDEP, 668. 

66 Parallaticae, sig. Aiii r : “adiecitque editionis suae haud minimam esse causam, ut ea me liberaret 
(huiusmodi scribendi) molestia: illaque praemitteret, quae, pressius a me scriptis (de istis, similibusve 
rebus) lucem aliquam, hac sua adferrent industria: et quo plures, interea, instruerentur, redderentur testes, 
maiori fide digni: cum et ipsi, doctioribus et Mathematicis oculis, istud artificiose observare docerentur, 
quod caelo adhuc fulget, rarissimum Spectaculum.” 

67 Parallaticae, sig. Aiii r “nostro proinde diutius inclusa ergastulo (ubi nuper nata sunt) haec nolui 
detinere Theoremata: sed ex quodam nostro (nondum absoluto) selecta libro, actutum potius, in publicum 
emittere: ut fructum haud parvum Mathematicis reportent, donee alia nostra (in hoc Philosophandi 
genere) scripta, tempore sunt proditura opportuno.” 

68 See intra, 53. 

69 Parallaticae, sig. Aii r . 

70 Alae, sig. A2 r : “Sed plura de huius stellae historia scribere non decrevi, quia eximius vir Iohannes Dee 
(quum in reliqua philosophia admirandus, turn harum scientiarum peritissimus, quern tanquam mihi 
Parentem alteram Mathematicum veneror...) hanc sibi tractandam assumpserit materiam, quam ita 
absoluturam esse, ut in Dei optimi maximi gloriam, et Mathematicaram artium studiosoram 
delectationum, utilitatem et admirationem summam, brevi prodeat, nihil dubito.” 




STEPHEN JOHNSTON 


LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON? 

John Dee, Thomas Digges and the Identity of the Mathematician 


In early 1573 two English mathematical books were being prepared for the press. 
Though produced by different printers they were issued as a pair and today are 
usually found bound together. John Dee’s Parallaticae commentationis praxeosque 
nucleus quidam and Thomas Digges’s Alae seu scalae mathematicae were both 
prompted by the new star of 1572. The material fact of their joint publication neatly 
echoes the sentiments of familiarity expressed by the two authors. Digges supplied a 
preface to Dee’s work, explaining the extent to which the two texts had been 
composed independently, while also praising Dee’s learning and the benefits of their 
collaboration and discussion. Both Dee and Digges further specified their relation¬ 
ship in the prefaces to their own works. The bond between them was avowedly 
close, indeed paternal: for Dee, Digges was “my most worthy mathematical heir”, 
while Digges repeatedly referred to Dee as a “revered second mathematical father” 
and acknowledged the pleasure of their intellectual intimacy. 1 

These comments have often been noted and, in light of Thomas Digges’s 
Copernicanism, occasionally been incorporated in attempts to establish Dee’s views 
on heliocentric cosmology. 2 Nevertheless, Digges has not figured prominently in 
studies of Dee - no doubt because the scarcity of additional evidence has seemed to 
preclude any extended analysis of their association. Yet the relationship was more 
than simply a passing alliance inflamed by the excitement of the new star. In his ah 
too brief comments in the preface and proemium to Alae , Digges indicated that the 
connection with Dee stretched back much further. Thomas recorded that his mathe¬ 
matical education had been begun by his father Leonard, himself a mathematician in 
his own right and the author of two popular vernacular texts published in the 1550s. 
But according to Thomas, Leonard had only been able to plant certain seeds of 
elementary mathematical learning in his son, and after his death it was left to Dee to 
cultivate and supplement these with further instruction. 3 

The mutually acknowledged paternal relationship between John Dee and Thomas 
Digges therefore gives us a remarkable window onto Dee’s work and significance. 
Digges certainly provides an opportunity to assess Dee’s role in forming the next 
generation of mathematicians. I argue that Dee offered the youthful Digges not only 
specific mathematical instruction but that he also supported his pupil’s vision of the 
character and value of mathematics. In particular, I suggest that Dee’s prior investi¬ 
gations underlie the studies embodied in Digges’s first mathematical publication, in 
1571. Moreover, Dee’s early career in the 1550s as a mathematical client in noble 


65 

S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought , 65-84. 
© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



66 


S. JOHNSTON 


households provided an exemplar for emulation as Digges first fashioned his own 
role in the early 1570s. 

As well as illuminating the issue of Dee’s contemporary influence, Digges can 
also be used to examine Dee’s own mathematical values and commitments. Over the 
course of the 1570s and 1580s, Digges reworked the terms of his mathematical 
identity, shifting away from a commitment to advanced and novel topics and 
prioritising instead the active service of prince and commonwealth. However, rather 
than representing a break with the pattern of Dee’s career, I suggest that Digges’s 
civic turn helps us to understand the changing character of Dee’s own role as he 
advocated and practised a vernacular ethic of mathematical service in the 1570s. 

While seeking to emphasise the importance of this series of connections between 
the careers of Dee and Digges, I do not conclude that they pursued identical 
ambitions. Digges never followed Dee’s broadest conceptions of the terrain of 
mathematics and its relationship to other areas of learning. I examine the sig¬ 
nificance of this difference through the lens of Copemicanism and argue that the 
different responses of master and pupil reflect a fundamental divergence in their 
respective conceptions of the identity of the mathematician. 

Mathematics has long been crucial to evaluations of Dee’s work. Since E.G.R. 
Taylor’s Tudor Geography of 1930, Dee’s conception and practice of the mathe¬ 
matical arts have been a touchstone for those seeking to rescue his reputation, 
whether in order to proclaim his significance within Elizabethan culture or to instate 
him in the pantheon of the Scientific Revolution. Conversely, Dee has also been 
enrolled in the arguments of those sceptical of the positive impact of occult philo¬ 
sophies in the late Renaissance. Querying Dee’s attainments as a mathematician has 
provided one means of undermining claims for Neoplatonism, Hermeticism and 
related magical traditions. At the extremes, these approaches become undis¬ 
criminating apology on the one hand and dismissive anachronism on the other, in 
either case blurring the possibility of a critical evaluation of Dee himself. By using 
Digges as a constant point of comparison, we can establish a perspective on Dee that 
is distanced and yet close to contemporary categories, in which we seek to recover 
the integrity of Dee’s own enterprise while retaining a sensitivity to its differences 
and distinctions. 

The obvious place to begin is Dee’s Mathematicall Praeface to Euclid of 1570. 
Now probably his most frequently cited work, this text integrates a philosophical 
account of mathematics with a richly ramified classification of the various math¬ 
ematical arts and sciences, elaborated and combined to create a mathematical 
manifesto whose claims are both disciplinary and yet personal to Dee. But despite its 
seeming timeliness - Digges’s first publication is dated from the following year - I 
do not want to take this apparently obvious route. 

Although Digges recorded Dee’s mathematical instruction in print he gave no 
details or dates. Julian Roberts and Andrew Watson have recorded a small but vital 
fragment of independent evidence which suggests that Dee became Thomas’s 
mathematical master soon after Leonard’s death, which most likely occurred in 1559 



IDENTITY OF THE MATHEMATICIAN 


67 


when Thomas was only about 13 years old. Dee had signed his copy of the 1544 
Basel edition of Archimedes’s Opera on 1 January 1550 but, in addition to Dee’s 
signature, the title page also carries the revealing note “Thomas Diggius 1559”. 4 The 
striking coincidence of dates hints strongly that Dee assumed the mantle of tutor 
immediately after Leonard’s death. Certainly, the language of fatherhood which both 
Dee and Thomas Digges used in 1573 would be most readily explicable if there was 
little interruption in paternal role between Leonard Digges and Dee. Given this 
probability that Thomas had first studied with Dee at the end of the 1550s, we 
therefore cannot be sure that Dee’s Praeface to the 1570 Euclid is the most 
appropriate or relevant text for understanding Digges’s early work. Rather than Dee, 
Digges himself can serve more securely as our starting point. 

Thomas Digges (c. 1546-1595) is most familiar within the history of science as 
the first advocate of Copernicanism in England. 5 However he appears in many more 
narratives than that of Renaissance astronomy and cosmology. He is to be found in 
accounts of navigation, ballistics, surveying and harbour engineering, as well as 
military strategy and administration, and parliamentary politics. 6 In many of these 
accounts he is portrayed as a key figure in the development of the tradition of 
mathematical practice in England. 

Digges’s first publication was Pantometria (1571). At first sight this text appears 
to link him more closely with the outlook of his natural father rather than his 
“second mathematical father”. Pantometria was actually written by Leonard Digges 
as a “geometrical practise” divided into three books, dealing respectively with the 
reckoning of heights and distances, areas, and volumes. This treatment of instru¬ 
mental and computational techniques for surveying and mensuration was justified in 
terms of civic and military utility as well as personal pleasure. In securing the 
posthumous publication of his father’s most important extant work, Thomas was 
undoubtedly exercising the duties of filial responsibility. But he did more than 
rescue his father’s practical geometry from oblivion. At the end of Pantometria , 
Thomas appended a vernacular text of his own, a Mathematicall Discourse of Geo- 
metricall Solids. 

Digges’s Mathematicall Discourse provides us with the best witness to his 
earliest mathematical commitments and values. Although his editorial work saved 
Leonard’s Pantometria from obscurity, Thomas’s own contribution to the volume 
has been entirely forgotten. Yet it is a remarkable text, with a range and ambition 
quite unlike any other English mathematical work published in the sixteenth century. 
The Mathematicall Discourse proclaims the value of advanced mathematical study 
not just in the realm of lofty rhetoric but through the disciplined endeavour of 
elaborating hundreds of new theorems. There is no evidence that Leonard Digges 
had grappled with the kind of mathematical material that here engaged his son; we 
should look instead to John Dee for the origins and motivation of Thomas Digges’s 
efforts. 

The Mathematicall Discourse is primarily concerned with the properties, 
dimensions, and interrelations of the five regular (Platonic) solids. Its text gives 
several hundred theorems dealing with such topics as the mutual inscription and 



68 


S. JOHNSTON 


circumscription of these solids. The final section of the text investigates similar 
questions but does so by studying five ‘transformed’ bodies - semi-regular 
Archimedean solids generated by the metamorphosis of each of the five Platonic 
solids. The Mathematicall Discourse covers its subject in just over one hundred 
pages, but its brevity is deceptive. The amount of labour invested in its preparation 
is disguised by Digges’s decision to omit proofs of his mass of theorems for the sake 
of brevity. 7 

John Dee was one of the few people - if not indeed the only person - in 
Elizabethan England who could have helped to set the agenda of this work and 
inform its detailed choices. Although Dee is nowhere named or referred to (Digges 
cites only Euclid), there are a number of significant points of overlap with his 
mathematical interests and style. Firstly, there is Digges’s principal concern with 
solid geometry; this was the area of Euclid’s Elements on which Dee focused his 
published annotations. 8 Digges does however begin with some preparatory material 
on the plane geometry of polygons and circles, and their mutual inscription and 
circumscription. Dee had already taken up this topic, as well as having given 
specific attention to the solid geometry of inscribing the Platonic solids in a sphere. 9 

Although both Dee and Digges tackled and sought to extend the Euclidean 
corpus, neither was bound by the demonstrative form of the Elements. Dee was 
often interested in finding ‘useful’ mechanical techniques rather than rigorous 
proofs. 10 Even in his more formal mathematical work he rarely sought to prove 
geometrical properties; rather, as Marshall Clagett has characterised Dee’s work on 
conics, he typically propounded his propositions as problems in which a given 
magnitude is the starting point from which another magnitude is sought. 11 Such 
numerically formulated ‘data problems’ also make up the staple content of Digges’s 
Mathematical Discourse. Moreover, this stylistic affinity is complemented by a 
parallel concern with identifying and classifying irrational magnitudes in the terms 
of Euclid’s Elements book X. 12 

These detailed connections strongly suggest the extent to which Digges’s early 
mathematical endeavours were rooted in Dee’s prior concerns, and probably derive 
from problems which had occupied Dee at the end of the 1550s. Only through the 
support of a figure such as Dee could Digges have believed that there was in 
England an audience for his studies of polyhedra, which were expressly intended for 
“the satisfaction also of such as delighting in matters only new, rare and difficult, 
seek to reach above the common sort”. 13 

If the content and character of Digges’s Mathematicall Discourse indicates the 
significance of his formative period with Dee at the end of the 1550s, so does a 
consideration of his early role as a mathematician. Digges differed from Dee in both 
birth and upbringing: he appears not to have attended university and, rather than a 
scholar, was a gentleman who inherited substantial holdings of land and property. 14 
Though he had no need to seek preferment to a living or court office, his 
relationships with patrons in the early 1570s nevertheless echo the noble and courtly 
service of Dee’s early career. 



IDENTITY OF THE MATHEMATICIAN 


69 


Dee acted as tutor and consultant to a succession of patrons in the late 1540s and 
1550s, with mathematics as his key vehicle for credit. While at Louvain, Dee tutored 
Sir William Pickering in arithmetic and mathematical instruments. Back in England, 
he successfully dedicated texts of 1550 and 1551 on the celestial globe and on the 
distances and magnitudes of planets and stars to Edward VI. When Dee entered 
household service with William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, in February 1552 it 
was presumably as a mathematicus . Certainly, the basis of Dee’s subsequent service 
with the Northumberland family was mathematical. Dee gave advice on the voyage 
to Cathay of 1553, an enterprise in which the Duke of Northumberland was heavily 
involved. Dee also wrote vernacular tracts on mathematical topics for the Duchess, 
one on “The Philosophicall and Poeticall Original occasions, of the Configurations, 
and names of the heavenly Asterismes” and the other on “The true cause, and 
account (not vulgar) of Fluds and Ebbs”, a title whose emphasis presages Digges’s 
early concern to reach beyond the common sort. 15 These poetic and philosophical 
considerations were balanced by the tuition in military mathematics that was offered 
to Northumberland’s son John, Duke of Warwick and which Dee would sub¬ 
sequently mention in the Mathematical! Praeface . 16 

Digges’s principal patron of the early 1570s was William Cecil, elevated to the 
title of Lord Burghley in 1571 and created Lord Treasurer in 1572. Burghley 
received the dedication of Alae seu scalae mathematicae and he had also privately 
solicited advice from Digges about the new star. But while Digges’s published work 
dealt with the mathematical determination of place, distance, and magnitude, 
Burghley’s concern was with the astrological meaning of the exceptional event. 17 In 
1574 Digges designed a polyhedral garden sundial for Burghley and also presented 
him with a manuscript text to accompany his “Frame Astronomical”, a celestial 
ceiling with mechanical sun installed in Burghley’s newly built house of Theo¬ 
balds. 18 Digges’s lost treatise included tables to determine the positions of stars in 
relation to the horizon, meridian, sun, and moon, “whereupon sundry conclusions 
both pleasant for variety of knowledge and necessary for common use are grounded. 
Whereof I have in 50 conclusions digested the greater part, with their Histories 
Poetical and Judgements Astronomical.” This work was clearly similar in genre and 
style to Dee’s 1553 text on the constellations for the Duchess of Northumberland. 

A generation apart, both Dee and Digges studied and published on deliberately 
elevated and novel mathematical matters, far exceeding the reach of ‘the common 
sort’. But Digges recapitulated broader elements of Dee’s early mathematical role. 
Just as Dee served the Northumberland family and other patrons in the 1550s, so 
Digges provided mathematical services for Lord Burghley in the early 1570s. Noble 
service revolved around advice on the patron’s interests, the provision of texts and 
ingenious devices, and probably some household tutoring. Dee thus seems to stand 
behind not only the topic and detailed form of Digges’s earliest mathematical work 
but also Digges’s earliest fashioning of his identity as a mathematician. 

Dee may also have prompted Digges to investigate matters beyond the purely 
mathematical. For example, an alchemical manuscript passed through Digges’s 
hands in which he wrote out Walter Haddon’s poem in praise of Thomas Norton and 
digested or copied alchemical schemata and classifications. 19 Digges displayed no 



70 


S. JOHNSTON 


other sign of interest in alchemy and this otherwise puzzling evidence may be a trace 
of his close relationship with Dee. 

When presenting the Mathematicall Discourse in 1571 Digges clearly expressed 
the values which sustained his investigation of polyhedra. While the edition of his 
father’s Pantometria was portrayed as a work embodying the practical virtues of 
utility, the defence of the Mathematicall Discourse was rhetorically constructed 
around intellectual elevation. Digges feigned to ignore those who might castigate his 
advanced study of polyhedra as “a fond toy, a mere curious trifle, serving to no use 
or commodity”. Unless a detractor genuinely valued the study of “hard and difficult” 
matters, persuasion would be useless. Digges rounded on potential critics as “two- 
footed moles and toads whom destiny and nature hath ordained to crawl within the 
earth, and suck upon the muck”; such men “may not possibly by any vehement 
exhortation be reduced or moved to taste or savour any whit of virtue, science, or 
any such celestial influence”. 20 Digges’s robust language enforced a stark division of 
men into either virtuous followers of Euclid, Archimedes, and Apollonius or 
ignorant acolytes of Epicurus and Midas, content with the realm of lucre and mere 
worldly pleasure. The Mathematicall Discourse embodied mathematics not as a 
useful or vocational pursuit adapted to military or civic ends but as the work of a 
gentleman who primarily prized intellectual nobility. 

Yet the terms of this seemingly forceful apology for advanced mathematics were 
not to be sustained by Digges. In his later career he substantially redefined his 
identity and public persona as a mathematician. This self-conscious shift is most 
vividly displayed in Stratioticos (1579), a text on military mathematics. Digges there 
offered some autobiographical reflections on his work of the early 1570s and 
confessed that “the strange variety of inventions in the more subtle part of these 
mathematical demonstrations did breed in me for a time a singular delectation”. 
However, with maturer judgement, he had turned from subtlety and delight to 
practicality and utility. Digges stated that he had latterly “spent many of my years in 
reducing the Sciences Mathematical from Demonstrative Contemplations to Experi¬ 
mental Actions, for the Service of my Prince and Country”. 21 

This advertisement of reformed commitments was no mere rhetorical flourish; 
Digges’s subsequent activities show him immersed in the vita activa - as a so-called 
‘man of business’ in the House of Commons, as an engineering advisor, and as an 
administrator in the Earl of Leicester’s 1585 expeditionary force to the Netherlands. 
Yet these civic and military commitments did not represent an abandonment of 
mathematics by Digges: in the early 1590s he was still advocating the study of 
ballistics and artillery as a high mathematical art with immediate relevance to the 
nation’s security. 22 

Was this a turn away from the example of Dee? Certainly, Dee did not actively 
pursue the particular forms of military and technical service in which Digges 
distinguished himself. But there are nevertheless significant resonances between the 
new values of mathematical practice espoused by Digges and those of his erstwhile 
mentor. Digges’s efforts to articulate an identity more as mathematical practitioner 
than mathematicus direct us towards the civic turn in Dee’s own career. Rather than 



IDENTITY OF THE MATHEMATICIAN 


71 


a shift away from Dee, Digges’s later work can be interpreted as a move in the same 
direction, for the 1570s were the crucial decade for Dee’s promotion of the civic 
values of mathematics. 

During this decade, Dee’s published claims for the value of mathematics were 
expanded to embrace a new rhetoric beyond that of its philosophical significance 
and demonstrative certainty. In both the Mathematicall Praeface (1570) and the 
General and Rare Memorials (1577) Dee presented himself in vernacular form as a 
benefactor of the commonwealth through the medium of useful mathematics. 

Dee’s two main publications before 1570 were the Propaedeumata Aphoristica 
(1558 and 1568) and the Monas Hieroglyphica (1564); both were Latin texts dealing 
with relatively recondite topics and expressed in often obscure aphoristic form. Dee 
had of course been involved in a range of practical activities prior to the 1570s, his 
navigational consultations of the 1550s being perhaps the most prominent instance. 
But these were private transactions and it was only in the 1570s that Dee articulated 
such activity in a self-conscious effort to shape his public image. Much of this self- 
fashioning was conducted through his personal apologetics, where Dee sought to 
defend himself firstly from the charge of conjuring and latterly from the accusation 
that he was unwilling to share the results of his labours with his countrymen. 23 

Though his name was removed from subsequent editions, the branding of Dee as 
a conjuror in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs permanently marked him as a suspect figure. 24 
Moreover, his protestations of legitimacy and innocence are not merely symptoms of 
over-sensitivity or paranoia; it is possible to identify a surprising number of 
individuals whom Dee considered had slandered or falsely accused him. 25 Dee had a 
well-rehearsed defence against such adversaries for, prior to his own ‘Digression 
Apologeticall’ in the Mathematicall Praeface , he had composed an apologia for 
Roger Bacon in the 1550s, in which he defended Bacon from the vulgar sort who 
believed that he had acted with the help of demons. 26 Dee himself sought to shake 
off the charge of conjuror by asserting that he proceeded only by natural and lawful 
means. The lengthy recitation of the mathematical arts which occupies so much of 
the Mathematicall Praeface bolsters this claim by displaying the wide-ranging 
powers and effectiveness of mathematics. Yet though the manifold benefits of 
practical mathematics served the commonwealth, Dee’s role was to furnish the 
‘groundplat’ for the work of others rather than to personally devote himself to that 
end. Rather than duty to the commonwealth, Dee assigned himself prime 
responsibility to God and the attainment of divine wisdom. His self-defence in 1570 
therefore declared his Christian piety and ardent desire for truth as a means of 
rebutting the slanders that had impugned his good name. 27 

By the time Dee published the General and Rare Memorials in 1577 a second 
charge also required his urgent attention, namely that he had deliberately withheld 
material from his countrymen. Dee had genuine work to do here to clear his 
reputation. Although he had listed the names of various of his works in the 
Propaedeumata Aphoristica , twenty years later none of these had yet been pub¬ 
lished. 28 Moreover, Dee had openly doubted the wisdom of spreading his ideas too 
widely. The second edition of the Propaedeumata Aphoristica cautioned the reader 



72 


S. JOHNSTON 


against letting the work fall into the wrong hands: “you must not reveal [it] openly 
to unworthy and profane persons [...] lest, to your shame and mine, it should be 
turned to great harm”. Dee expressed similarly wary sentiments in his letter to the 
printer Sylvius at the beginning of the Monas Hieroglyphica. 29 

Dee’s supposed reticence was not just the object of anonymous carping but of 
specific accusations and incitements. In the General and Rare Memorials Dee cited 
the case of an unnamed scholar who had apparently agitated for Dee’s banishment 
on the grounds that “to no Man of this Realm, he did at any tyme, or yet doth, or 
will, communicate any part, of his learned Talent, by word or writing: But is wholy 
addicted, to his priuate commodity only avancing, by his own Studies and practises 
very secret”. 30 Although he had subsequently secured a recantation from his accuser, 
Dee used the opportunity of publication to proclaim his status as a dutiful citizen. 

Dee now made it clear that he served more than only a divine calling to 
knowledge, when he referred to his “faythfull enterprises: vndertaken chiefly, for the 
Advancement of the wonderfull Veritie Philosophicall: And also, for the State 
Publik of this Brytish Monarchie, to become florishing, in Honor, Wealth, and 
Strength”. 31 Indeed, if it were not for the parenthetical restriction of his comments to 
worldly matters, Dee would seem to be claiming that all endeavours should be 
subordinate to the needs of the commonwealth: “All true Subjects, their Chief Intent, 
and principall purpose, (in all their worldly affayres, Artes, Sciences, and Studyes, 
&c.) ought to be, the procuring, furdering, mainteyning and encreasing of the weal 
and Commodity Publik, so much as in them lyeth, and as, they decently and 
dutifully may”. 32 This theme was elaborated and reiterated, as Dee sought to 
reinterpret all of his prior labours under the heading of public service. Dee 
considered that he should “receyve great publick thanks, comfort, and ayde of the 
whole Brytish state, to the honour, welfare, and preservation wherof (next unto his 
duty doing unto God) he hath directed all the course of his manifold studies, great 
travailes, and incredible costs”. 33 Whatever the plausibility of this highly charged 
retrospective verdict, Dee’s memorandum on the navy and his proposed volumes on 
navigation were meant as further proof of his earnest service. 34 

Dee’s civic turn may have been motivated by highly personal circumstances, but 
the resulting texts expressed not merely a personal apologia but a general 
programme for the development of the mathematical arts. Moreover, Dee’s 
commitment to active service was not restricted to the realm of print. It was during 
the later 1570s and early 1580s that Dee achieved his greatest influence and standing 
in and around the court. 35 He was frequently consulted for advice on political, 
geographical and historical matters and, whether supplying navigational instruction 
or mustering historical and cartographic sources to support Elizabeth’s legal claims 
to foreign territories, Dee presented himself as a faithful servant of the common¬ 
wealth. 

There is therefore a strong parallel between the mathematical careers and shifting 
identities of Dee and Digges through the 1570s and into the early 1580s. Yet their 
paths were to diverge: while Digges fulfilled military and civil duties within the 
Elizabethan state and journeyed to the Netherlands as part of a military intervention 



IDENTITY OF THE MATHEMATICIAN 


73 


in support of Protestantism, Dee secured access to the spiritual realm through the 
agency of Edward Kelley, leaving England in 1583 with Albert Laski. Dee’s 
departure has often been interpreted as the beginning of a sad decline, a retreat into 
mysticism and delusion. Yet there can be little doubt that Dee himself believed that 
through these spiritual conferences he was able to achieve the most potent and 
universal forms of action and intelligence. The angelic conversations, with their 
political and irenic dimensions, were surely for Dee not only a culmination and 
transformation of his philosophical concerns, but a prolongation and deepening of 
the civic and worldly activism which he had developed in the 1570s. However, 
Dee’s horizons expanded beyond those of service only to the British commonwealth. 
For Dee, the existence of spirits was not only literally interpreted and routinely 
granted, but access to spiritual intelligences was philosophically justified within a 
metaphysics linking human nature and the supercelestial realm. His conversations 
with angels were a means to achieve closer contact with the God who provided the 
basis and authority for all mortals, including temporal rulers. 36 

Yet however we might interpret the angelic conversations - and it is striking that 
Dee refers to them not just as dialogues but as actions - Digges provides a 
contemporary vantage point from which Dee’s distinctive choices are thrown into 
relief. While mathematics allows us to identify the substantial areas of common 
ground between Dee and Digges, I suggest that it can also provide a window onto 
the differences that are most vividly highlighted by their divergent paths in the mid- 
1580s. The case of astronomy illustrates the points where their conceptions of the 
proper terrain and status of mathematics conflicted rather than converged. 

Mathematical astronomers of the sixteenth century adopted a variety of strategies 
to minimise and defuse potential conflict with natural philosophers. While the 
hybrid Ptolemaic-Aristotelian scheme of the medieval tradition of Theorica plane- 
tarum remained current, mathematical astronomers increasingly resorted to what 
Nicholas Jardine has termed the “pragmatic compromise”. This compromise gave 
the mathematician the liberty to use whatever mathematical means were deemed 
necessary to “save the phenomena”, in the classic phrase, while questions of the 
physical reality and character of the heavens fell under the gaze of the philosopher. 37 
Dee presents an interesting case for the operation of these interrelations because he 
had both mathematical and philosophical ambitions. Yet he did distinguish between 
mathematical astronomy and a more philosophically based account of the cosmos, 
and he placed them on distinct epistemic levels. In the Mathematicall Praeface , Dee 
first charged astronomy with determining the sizes and distances of the earth, sun, 
moon, and fixed stars. As is clear from the Propaedeumata Aphoristica this infor¬ 
mation was of primary use in Dee’s vision of a reformed astrology based on per¬ 
spective. 38 However, Dee used biblical authority to determine the principal remit of 
the astronomical art: God “made the Sonne, Mone, and Sterres, to be to us, for 
Signes, and knowledge of Seasons, and for Distinctions of Dayes, and yeares”. 39 
Although Dee enigmatically asks his readers to weigh the significance of the word 
“signs”, it is clear that a principal duty of the astronomer is to the calendar; he con¬ 
tinues by saying that only through diligent observation and calculation of the 
celestial motions can there be 



74 


S. JOHNSTON 


the distinct Course of Times, dayes, yeares, and Ages: as well for Consideration of 
Sacred Prophesies, accomplished in due time, foretold: as for high Mysticall 
Solemnities holding: And for all other humaine affaires, Conditions, and covenantes, 
upon certaine time, betweene man and man: with many other great uses. 40 

Thus, although the title John Dee on Astronomy has been given to the modern 
edition and translation of the Propaedeumata Aphoristica , Dee’s major work on 
astronomy is actually his treatise on calendar reform of 1583 rather than his 
optically-based theory of astrological influence. 

That the mathematical sciences could contribute to natural philosophy is evident 
from the Propaedeumata Aphoristica. But, for Dee, the mathematical astronomer 
did not have the sole or even primary authority to pronounce philosophically on the 
heavens. Dee’s cosmology was based on much more than just mathematical 
astronomy. Astrology and, indeed, alchemy were equally at stake in questions 
concerning the cosmos. Alchemy as “inferior astronomy” presupposed not just an 
identification of the metals with the planets, but also the conventional order of the 
planets. Moreover, as Clulee has made particularly clear, in the Monas Hiero- 
glyphica Dee went well beyond such standard doctrines and correspondences, not 
only integrating astronomy with disciplines such as alchemy but subsuming it within 
a wider programme which sought deeper and more primordial truths about the world 
and its God-given structure. 41 When juxtaposed with his programme of hieroglyphic 
writing and “real cabala”, the specifically mathematical art of astronomy was for 
Dee a limited and partial enterprise in its determination of celestial dimensions, 
positions and motions. 

The significance of Dee’s conception of the limited status of mathematical 
astronomy can be highlighted by contrast with Digges’s vision, and is particularly 
evident in their respective responses to Copernicus. Both Dee and Digges were 
fulsome in their praise for his work, but Dee lauded Copernicus as a restorer of 
mathematical astronomy without discussing the physical reality of the heliocentric 
hypothesis, whereas Digges adopted the Copernican theory of the planetary order on 
mathematical grounds. 

The topic of Dee and Copernicanism has been repeatedly examined, since it has 
provided a test case for those who wish to argue either that Dee was one of those 
working towards modern science or, conversely, that his mystical interests precluded 
any significant affiliation with progressive developments. The majority of recent 
studies have denied Dee’s belief in the heliocentric theory and used this conclusion 
to undermine the Yates thesis that Hermeticism contributed to the adoption of 
Copernicus’s world-system. 42 Here I want to move beyond the terms of this debate - 
sufficiently discussed by now - and to look instead at what Dee’s astronomical work 
tells us about the identity of the mathematician and the relation of mathematics to 
philosophy and other areas of learning. 

Dee saw Copernicus as the most recent in a long line of major mathematical 
astronomers, restoring a science whose predictions and parameters were manifestly 
inaccurate. Copernicus’s work was valuable because it provided the basis for new 
and improved tables which better predicted celestial motions. Dee was unstinting in 



IDENTITY OF THE MATHEMATICIAN 


75 


his praise of Copernicus in this role. In his preface to John Feild’s ephemeris of 
1556 Dee referred to Copernicus’s dazzling brilliance, his divine studies and his 
Herculean labours in restoring the celestial discipline. 43 Likewise, Copernicus fig¬ 
ures prominently in Dee’s treatise on calendar reform, where Dee places him as the 
most recent and notable astronomer in his historical review aimed at establishing 
values for the most slowly changing of astronomical parameters. 44 Both these texts 
fall within the domain of mathematical astronomy and Dee makes it clear that this 
terrain is not the appropriate one on which to consider the reality of Copernicus’s 
proposals. In the preface to Feild’s tables, Dee comments simply that “this is not 
now the place to discuss [Copernicus’s] hypotheses”. The calendar proposal refers to 
the “newe paradoxall Hypotheses” of Copernicus and Dee says that his account 
depends “chiefly upon the said Copernicus his Calculation, and Phaenomenies: 
excepting his Hypotheses Theoricall; not here to be brought in question”. 45 

It is not clear to what place Dee thought a consideration of Copernicus’s physical 
and philosophical claims could be deferred. In the Monas Hieroglyphica, Dee did 
discuss celestial order beyond the delimited domain of mathematical astronomy, but 
there he sought to transcend the detailed concerns of astronomy. In that text, rather 
than observation as the prime means of determining the underlying arrangement of 
the heavens, Dee was tempted by the prospect of deriving superior truth from his 
reconstitution of primordial symbols: 

Will not the astronomer be very sorry for the cold he suffered under the open sky, for 
[all his] vigils and labours, when here, with no discomfort to be suffered from the air, he 
may most exactly observe with his eyes the orbits of the heavenly bodies under [his 
own] roof, with windows and doors shut on all sides, at any given time, and without any 
mechanical instruments made of wood or brass? 46 

Yet Dee did not despise astronomical observation, or believe that it was entirely 
redundant. He had carried out programmes of observation with large-scale 
instruments in the mid-1550s and also at the time of the new star. 47 But precise 
observation delivered accurate parameters rather than establishing principles; 
cosmological principles were for Dee rooted in a wider disciplinary constellation 
than mathematics alone. 

Digges on the other hand adopted and advocated the Copernican world system as 
the best representation of the actual order of the planets. In his Alae of 1573 he 
already expressed a preference for Copernicus, repeatedly echoing Copernicus’s 
condemnation of the “monstrous”, botched arrangement of the Ptolemaic spheres. 48 
However, he withheld an absolute acceptance that Copernicus had restored the 
perfect anatomy of the heavens, wondering whether some adjustments were still 
required and whether the new star might indeed provide evidence that would prove 
Copernicus’s case. Digges returned to the issue of Copernicanism in his Perfit 
Description of the Caelestiall Orbes , appended to the 1576 edition of his father’s 
popular almanac, the Prognostication Everlasting. The Perfit Description provided 
an augmented translation of the major chapters in the first book of Copernicus’s De 
revolutionibus and was preceded by Digges’s much-reproduced image of the cosmos 
in which the stars extend infinitely outwards from the solar-centred planetary 
system. Although his earlier hopes for the new star as a cosmological arbiter had 



76 


S. JOHNSTON 


remained unfulfilled, he now nevertheless expressed his views more emphatically in 
favour of the heliocentric doctrine. 

Digges’s advocacy of Copernicanism rested on an extraordinary elevation of the 
power of mathematics. Not only were mathematical techniques of investigation and 
argument to be accounted the best available for the domain of astronomy, but 
mathematics was to be considered as a means to arrive at the truth rather than just a 
tool to save the phenomena. Mathematics could demonstratively restore the perfect 
order of the celestial spheres without deferring to philosophy, traditionally placed 
above it in disciplinary hierarchies. Digges considered that, in contrast to the 
demonstrative certainty of mathematics, philosophy could offer only plausible or 
probable arguments. 49 This relative evaluation of mathematics and philosophy helps 
to explain the structure and sequence of the Per fit Description. Digges inverted the 
order of presentation which Copernicus had adopted for De revolutionibus and 
began his adapted translation with Book I, chapter 10: “On the order of the celestial 
spheres”. Here Copernicus had presented his new arrangement of the planets and 
given a mathematical justification for his scheme. Only after reading this principal 
(and, for Digges, self-sufficient) argument was the reader then taken back to De 
revolutionibus I, 7-9 where Copernicus had stated and then disputed the standard 
philosophical reasons against the motion of the earth. Digges made his expository 
strategy quite clear: 

because the world hath so long a time been carried with an opinion of the earth’s 
stability, as the contrary cannot now be very impersuasible, I have thought good out of 
Copernicus also to give a taste of the reasons philosophical alleged for the earth’s 
stability, and their solutions, [so] that such as are not able with geometrical eyes to 
behold the secret perfection of Copernicus’s Theoric may yet by these familiar, natural 
reasons be induced to search further, and not rashly to condemn for fantastical so 
ancient doctrine revived and by Copernicus so demonstratively approved. 50 

The realm of philosophy is only for those who lack “geometrical eyes” and 
remain stuck with probable argument and the deceptive evidence of the senses. 51 
Digges’s conception of a geometrical vision sufficient in itself to overturn traditional 
geocentric doctrines endowed mathematical astronomy with independent authority 
and freed it from subjection or subordination to philosophy or, indeed, any other 
discipline. Dee had opted for a differently instructed vision to uncover celestial 
truth: 


Raising toward heaven our cabbalistic eyes (that have been illuminated by speculation 
on these mysteries) we shall behold an anatomy precisely corresponding to that of our 
monad, which, in the light of Nature and life, will at all time reveal to us as is here 
shown, and will, by its pleasures, quite openly discover the most secret mysteries of this 
analysis of the physical world. 52 

The contrast between Dee’s “cabbalistic” and Digges’s geometric eyes neatly 
encapsulates their differing visions of the scope and competence of mathematics. 
However, the contrast should not be overdrawn. Digges’s geometric enterprise could 
scarcely be self-founding: inevitably it drew on moral resources and intellectual 
assumptions from beyond the strict realm of geometrical demonstration. Digges took 
as axiomatic the simplicity and order of the heavens, and accepted a fundamental 
opposition between the celestial and sublunary realms. 53 In both Alae seu scalae 
mathematicae and the Perfit Description he contrasted the perfection and regularity 



IDENTITY OF THE MATHEMATICIAN 


77 


of the heavens with the terrestrial world of generation and corruption. Above, there 
is the immutable empire of uniform, eternal, and pure substance, equated with the 
sacred temple for the Calvinist elect, while below, mortal sinners live out their days 
on the dark star of the earth. The celestial spheres attract the mind upwards away 
from the dregs of the body and their resplendent beauty entices noble reason with 
the prospect of joy and felicity, removed from all worldly troubles. All that is 
blessed finds its true home above, while mutability and decay are the destiny of the 
profane beings who dwell here below. Celestial order, simplicity, and harmony are 
opposed to sublunary irregularity and the uncertain, base, and brutish cares of 
humanity. 54 Digges’s geometrical vision was thus grounded in a rich stratum of 
metaphor, moral evaluation and religious commitment. But he did not seek to 
provide a firm disciplinary foundation for his mathematical astronomy through a 
systematic philosophical or theological justification of these assumptions. 

Dee on the contrary did attempt to elaborate a comprehensive philosophical 
position, within which mathematics could be situated. In the Mathematicall Prae- 
face , he presented mathematics as just one division of a tripartite ontology and 
epistemology. Dee drew particularly on Proclus to present mathematical objects as 
an intermediate level of being between matter and spirit, the human and divine, 
sense and pure intellect. 55 For Dee, mathematics was thus always placed in explicit 
relation with other learned disciplines, as part of a larger hierarchy of knowledge. 
While distinguishing different realms of being and understanding, Dee did not see 
each as being sealed off from the others. He sought to connect and integrate 
disciplines in order to straddle the boundaries between natural, mathematical and 
esoteric knowledge. His objectives in mathematics were not inwardly self- 
referential, but were continuous with his other intellectual ambitions. By empha¬ 
sising the practical, philosophical and spiritual virtues of various mathematical arts, 
Dee could move from the mathematics of the calendar or of navigation through to 
considerations of supercelestial intelligences without a break, as part of the same 
enterprise. 

Hence while Dee placed each limited mathematical art within the broad horizons 
of Renaissance scholarship, Digges restricted the mathematical arts to a narrower 
intellectual terrain. Dee moved freely within a self-assigned sphere of learning 
which incorporated mathematics, magic and natural philosophy. Digges did not 
accept the values underlying this continuum but elevated mathematics above other 
disciplines. Digges expressed this sense of segregation from the beginning of his 
career. He wished that nothing be allowed to sully the purity of his Mathematicall 
Discourse of 1571. Not just vulgar concerns with utility and profit were excluded by 
this prescription. Digges would not even allow any philosophical “pollution” of the 
certain and separate domain of mathematics. In the preface to his treatise Digges 
noted that he would not “discourse of [the regular solids’] secret or mystical 
appliances to the elemental regions and frame of the celestial spheres, as things 
remote and far distant from the method, nature and certainty of geometrical 
demonstration”. 56 The most obvious object of this implied reproach was the Platonic 
theory of the elements, as expounded in Timaeus. But Digges may have had a much 
more contemporary target in mind: the astrological De divina astrorum facultate 
(1570) of Dee’s former associate Offusius, in which the regular solids were used to 



78 


S. JOHNSTON 


determine cosmic and elemental proportions. 57 Evidently Digges had no wish to 
meddle with uncertain areas of natural or astrological philosophy. Yet whoever 
Digges meant to censure, his comments serve chiefly to highlight his contrasting 
image of geometry and his distinct identity as a mathematician. 

Digges’s deliberately limited conception of the legitimate terrain of the 
mathematician did not of course sever his ambitions entirely from the realm of 
philosophy. The case of Copemicanism shows that mathematics could, when secure 
on its own territory, challenge established philosophical conclusions. Dee however 
had a more expansive and positive conception of philosophy, and frequently 
identified himself as a philosopher rather than a mathematician. Mathematics was 
central to his programme but achieved much of its significance when brought to bear 
on philosophical issues: mathematically-informed natural philosophy provided 
insight into God’s creation while metaphysics carried the philosopher into 
supercelestial realms, offering ascent towards the divine. 

Much of the contrast between the identities of Dee and Digges as mathe¬ 
maticians therefore turns on their respective conceptions of philosophy. Whatever 
they shared in mathematics, Dee and Digges evidently had quite a different exposure 
to philosophy. From his time at Trinity College, it is clear that Dee was steeped in 
philosophical literature, and particularly in the familiar and conventional terrain of 
Aristotelian natural philosophy. Nicholas Clulee has indeed interpreted the Propae- 
deumata Aphoristica as the outcome of an early naturalistic and Aristotelian phase 
of Dee’s intellectual career. 58 The product of a mainstream academic education, Dee 
could almost take familiarity with Aristotelian natural philosophy for granted. 

Digges’s intellectual upbringing was quite different. There is no evidence that he 
attended university and the only references to his education are to the mathematical 
instruction of his father and Dee. It may be that Digges saw so little through 
philosophical eyes because he had received no systematic grounding in academic 
philosophy. Digges’s distinctively different evaluation of philosophy certainly 
suggests that Dee’s instruction of the youthful Digges was largely limited to 
mathematical matters. Trained up in mathematics, it was therefore on mathematics 
that Digges rested his criteria of intelligibility and evidence. 

I began this account of Dee and Digges with their texts prompted by the new star 
of 1572. Their conclusions on the star exemplify both the common elements in their 
mathematical work, and also the extent to which their visions of mathematics 
diverged. The published works provided demonstrative treatments of parallax as a 
means of establishing the distance and thus location of the new phenomenon. The 
texts were issued as soon as possible in order to encourage other European 
astronomers to make the necessary measurements. Digges’s volume also dealt 
extensively with observational practice, discussing the correction of instrumental 
errors and the judicious choice of computational procedures. 59 

The two texts were published before either Dee or Digges had arrived at 
definitive verdicts on the nature of the new star, though Digges was clearest in 
identifying it as a genuinely celestial phenomenon and recording its position in the 



IDENTITY OF THE MATHEMATICIAN 


79 


constellation of Cassiopeia. The similarities between their investigative strategies 
and chosen expository forms also appear to have been matched by the conclusions 
they reached after the star had finally disappeared from view. Although neither 
published their final judgements, Dee’s conclusion that the star had been let down 
and then withdrawn is evident from the title of his lost work on the star: De Stella 
admiranda in Cassiopeiae Asterismo, coelitus demissa ad orbem usque Veneris, 
iterumque in coeli penetralia perpendiculariter retracta lib. 3. 60 That this conclusion 
was shared by Digges is suggested by the evidence of the antiquary William Cam¬ 
den, who recorded in his Annales that both Dee and Digges believed the star to have 
gradually faded as it disappeared further from the earth. 61 

Yet despite the extent of their agreement, Dee and Digges made quite different 
uses of the new star. As we have seen, for Digges it was a first occasion for 
Copernican reflections as well as potential evidence for the superiority of the helio¬ 
centric world-system. Dee likewise considered the star to be of great significance 
but, with his quite different conception of the purpose and scope of mathematical 
astronomy, he interpreted it not as a cosmological but as a calendrical revelation. 
For Dee, the new star was literally an epoch-making event: he used its appearance to 
mark a new year zero of the same status as the birth of Christ and the creation of the 
world. He dated the “Necessary Advertisement” to the General and Rare Memorials 
as “Anno, Stellae (Coelo Demissae, rectaque Reversae) Quinto: Julij vero, Die 4 et 
Anno Mundi 5540”. 62 Dee also interpreted the new star as a sign or portent, just as 
the Mathematicall Praeface had hinted. In his copy of Manilius’s Astronomica he 
noted: 


I did coniecture the biasing star in Cassiopeia appering a 0 1572, to signify the fynding of 
some great Thresor or the philosophers stone ... This I told to Mr. Ed. Dier. at the same 
tyme. How truly it fell out in a 0 1582. Martij 10 it may appere in tyme to come ad 
stuporem Mundi. 63 

For Dee, the new star was enrolled in his conception of mathematical astronomy 
as a calendrical and chronological art which also revealed portents; for Digges, the 
new star announced a celestial reformation in which mathematics triumphed as the 
key to heavenly truth. 

My title posed the formulaic question “like father, like son?” for Dee and Digges. 
Despite Dee’s evident importance for the content and direction of Digges’s mathe¬ 
matical career, it is clear that he did not foster a mathematical son altogether in his 
own image. Digges emerged from Dee’s tutelage with a vision of mathematics and 
its legitimate ambitions markedly different from that of his mentor. In this 
mathematical relationship, father and son ultimately followed different paths. Dee 
either did not try to instruct Digges in the more philosophical and recondite 
dimensions of his own work or, if he did, his teaching was ineffective. Dee had 
greater long-term impact, both on Digges and on other more humble con¬ 
temporaries, through his prescription for the role of the mathematical practitioner set 
out in the Mathematicall Praeface. Yet Dee himself sought a more profound and 
prestigious identity beyond that of the mathematical practitioner and, even in the 
vernacular and outwardly practical Mathematicall Praeface , he hinted at the more 
potent and esoteric arts which only the adept might practise. Ironically, just as Dee 
was forsaking earthly avenues to wisdom in favour of spiritual access to more 



80 


S. JOHNSTON 


“radicall truthes” in the 1580s, the prosaic part of his public programme was being 
successfully adapted by figures such as Digges who refashioned their identities as 
mathematical practitioners. 64 

Digges thus helps to clarify the thorny problem of Dee’s contemporary sig¬ 
nificance and influence. The scale of that problem is perhaps most vividly illustrated 
by Peter French’s deeply ambivalent response to the issue. In his intellectual bio¬ 
graphy of Dee, French wrote that Dee “was decidedly out of place in sixteenth- 
century England”. Yet only three pages before he had decided that “Dee and the 
diverse contemporary attitudes towards him epitomize the English Renaissance”. 65 
Rather remarkably, Dee was meant to be both awkwardly isolated and yet also 
representative. The uniquely privileged perspective on Dee provided by a detailed 
examination of his relations with Digges indicates how Dee could be both close to 
and distant from his contemporaries. Yet, however suggestive, an account which 
uses Digges as an exclusive vehicle for approaching Dee is obviously too narrowly 
limited to carry complete conviction. I therefore want to conclude by showing how 
Digges’s ultimately double-edged relationship to Dee is matched by the ironies of 
the latter’s reputation among more humble mathematical practitioners. 

The most sensitive of recent interpretations of Dee have sought to recover his 
own self-understanding and intellectual practice. As a result we can better appreciate 
the coherence of Dee’s work and the rich interconnections between texts and plans 
which were often avowedly composed in haste and for highly specific occasions. 
Yet, given this historiographical finesse, we are apt to lose sight of the often less 
sophisticated readings that Dee’s contemporaries brought to bear. Certainly, the 
veiled projects and philosophical schemes excavated by modern scholarship were 
less noticeable (indeed usually invisible) to sixteenth-century vernacular authors on 
mathematics. 

Dee’s Mathematicall Praeface was indeed read and admired by such mathe¬ 
matical contemporaries as William Bourne and Edward Worsop. But their reading of 
his text stripped it of its philosophical and magical ambitions. Dee instead became a 
useful ally and a quarry for information. Taken as authoritative in his presentation of 
the range of mathematical arts, Dee’s Praeface provided a framework within which 
narrower and more specific work could be carried out. Bourne, in his Treasure for 
Travellers (1578), abbreviated Dee’s discussion of the mathematical sciences while 
acknowledging that his own acquaintance with statics was based solely on the 
account given in the Praeface. 66 Likewise, Edward Worsop, in writing on surveying, 
relied on Dee as a point of reference for the character of mathematics, making 
extensive use of his discussion of astrology and astronomy. Worsop indeed called 
for the Mathematicall Praeface to be printed as a manual, assimilating Dee to the 
world of cheap print rather than the abstruse realm of occult doctrine. Neither 
Bourne nor Worsop mentioned Dee’s other (Latin) publications. 67 

If mathematical practitioners such as Bourne and Worsop failed to fathom the 
depth of Dee’s studies, they nevertheless demonstrate Dee’s importance for the 
development of practical mathematics. Whereas Dee sought for himself an elevated 
role as a philosopher - in one instance, even, as a Christian Aristotle - he was a key 



IDENTITY OF THE MATHEMATICIAN 


81 


figure in establishing the identity of the mathematical practitioner and in promoting 
mathematics as worldly, instrumental, practical, vernacular and public. 68 

Dee cannot of course be assigned exclusive paternity for the creation and growth 
of the tradition of mathematical practice in England. Yet he was clearly not averse to 
casting himself in a paternal role; whether he would have extended it beyond the 
specific case of Digges is however uncertain. But what of Dee’s own parentage? If 
every father was once a child, how did Dee portray himself as offspring rather than 
as parent, and what did he make of his own intellectual genealogy? 

As Sherman has stressed, Dee was passionately concerned to establish and 
display his genealogy. 69 Among the remarkable features of these endeavours were 
his attempts to link himself with Arthur and the early Welsh kings and to connect his 
lineage with that of Elizabeth. Yet perhaps the most extraordinary element in his 
genealogy was Dee’s effort to forge a connection with Roger Bacon. Dee may have 
recognised many intellectual authorities but, as Clulee has persuasively argued, 
Bacon was the figure to whom Dee evidently felt closest. 70 Bacon provided Dee with 
a role model who advocated the centrality of mathematics within a broadly-based 
philosophical programme. Dee’s composition of an apologia for Bacon in 1557 
gives a hint of his sense of personal identification. But Dee set out not only to style 
himself on the intellectual example of Bacon but to actively construct a descent 
through which he could count Bacon as a blood relation. A substantial section of 
Dee’s calendar proposal is devoted to proclaiming the merits of Bacon’s own work 
on the topic and Dee wrote that no-one had made a better diagnosis and case for 
reform than this other British subject, “named (as some thincke) David Dee of 
Radik: But otherwise, and most commonly, (upon his name altered, at the alteration 
of his state, into the Fryerly profession) called Roger Bachon”. 71 Not content to 
magnify the achievement of his thirteenth-century predecessor, Dee was suggesting 
that he and Bacon actually belonged to the same family, for David Dee features in 
Dee’s own genealogical constructions. 72 Whatever the ultimate rationale for this 
identification it powerfully demonstrates Dee’s sense of pedigree and suggests how 
much was at stake in his acceptance of Digges as his mathematical heir. 


NOTES 


1 Parallaticae, sig. A2 V and Alae, sig. A2 r . Digges repeats the sentiment in his preface to Dee’s 
Parallaticae at sig. A2 r . 

2 For example, Peter J. French, John Dee: the World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge and 
Kegan Paul, 1972), 98-9. 

3 Digges comments on his mathematical education and associations in Alae , sigs. A2 r , B3 r and in An 
Arithmeticall Militare Treatise, named Stratioticos (London, 1579), 190. On Leonard Digges, see Joy B. 
Easton, “Leonard Digges”, in Charles Coulston Gillispie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography , 16 vols. 
(New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1970-80), IV, 97. 

4 R&W, 43 and 82, n.68. 

5 Francis R. Johnson made the first serious study of Digges’s Copemican text and the bulk of his careful 
account still stands; see Francis R. Johnson and Sanford V. Larkey, “Thomas Digges, the Copemican system, 
and the idea of the infinity of the universe in 1576”, Huntington Library Bulletin , 5 (1934): 69-117 and Francis 
R. Johnson, Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England: a Study of the English Scientific Writings from 
1500 to 1645 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1937), esp. chapters 5 and 6. For another classic 



82 


S. JOHNSTON 


but skewed interpretation see Alexandre Koyre, From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (Baltimore: 
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957), 34-9. For a more recent example of Digges’s place wit hin the story of 
astronomy, see Rene Taton and Curtis Wilson, eds., General History of Astronomy, Vol. 2: Planetary 
Astronomy from the Renaissance to the Rise of Astrophysics, Part A: Tycho Brahe to Newton (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1989), 22-3. For an example of Digges’s place in an account of the Scientific 
Revolution see Alfred Rupert Hall, The Scientific Revolution (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1954), 104. 

6 David Watkin Waters, The Art of Navigation in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times (London: Hollos & 
Carter, 1958); Alfred Rupert Hall, Ballistics in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 1952); Allie Wilson Richeson, English Land Measuring to 1800: Instruments and Practices 
(Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1966); John Summerson in Howard M. Colvin, ed., History of the King's 
Works, 6 vols (London: H.M.S.O., 1963-82), IV, 755-764; Henry Jameson Webb, Elizabethan Military 
Science: the Books and the Practice (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965). For the political career, 
see his entry in vol. 2 of P.W. Hasler, ed., The House of Commons 1558-1603, 3 vols (London: H.M.S.O. 
for the History of Parliament Trust, 1981) and, for more recent work, Michael Graves, “Managing 
Elizabethan Parliaments” in David M. Dean and Norman Leslie Jones, eds., The Parliaments of 
Elizabethan England (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990): 37-63 and Patrick Collinson, “Puritans, Men of 
Business and Elizabethan Parliaments,” Parliamentary History, 1 (1988): 187-211. 

7 Leonard and Thomas Digges, A Geometrical Practise, named Pantometria (London, 1571), sig. AaT. 

8 Dee’s additions to the Euclidean text appear in books X-XIII. For the character and content of these 
additions, see John Heilbron’s introduction to his edition of the Propaedeumata aphoristica {PA, 22-27). 

9 British Library, Cotton MS Vitellius C.VII, fols. 270 r -273 r , 278 v -279 r . 

10 Note especially the mechanical methods presented in the Mathematicall Praeface in the section on 
“Statike” (MP, sigs. cj r -ciij v ), as well as the general rationale for his additions to Euclid at fol. 371 r v of the 
1570 edition. Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS 254, fol.l88 r preserves another mechanico-mathe- 
matical “Inventum Johannis Dee”. 

11 Marshall Clagett, Archimedes in the Middle Ages, 5 vols (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press and 
Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1964-84), V, part 4, appendix 2, 493. 

12 Dee’s lost Tyrocinium Mathematicum was largely concerned with the theory of irrational magnitudes: 
see MP, fol. 268 r v . There are some surviving fragmentary notes on the topic in British Library, Cotton 
MS Vitellius C.VII, fol. 274 onwards. The terminology of irrational majors, binomials and apotomes of 
various orders recurs throughout Digges’s Mathematicall Discourse. 

13 Preface to Digges, Mathematicall Discourse in A Geometrical Practise, sig. S4 V . 

14 For Digges’s inherited land, see the list of his father’s lands in Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Philip and 
Mary, Vol. 2, 1554-1555 (London, 1936), 270 and also note the wealth indicated by his will, PRO 
PROB11/86, fols.l64 r -166 v . 

15 NP, 27, 29-32 provides a convenient resume of the material of this paragraph. For Dee and Pembroke, 
see the fuller discussion in R&W, 3-4. The titles of the texts for the Duchess of Northumberland appear in 
Dee’s Letter Containing a most briefe Discourse Apologeticall in James Crossley, ed., Autobiographical 
Tracts of Dr. John Dee, Chetham Society, 24 (1851), 75. Note that Dee may not have provided 
exclusively mathematical service at this time; Roberts and Watson note that Dee seems to have served as 
chaplain in Bishop Bonner’s household. 

16 MP, sigs. *iiij v -aj r . 

17 Public Record Office, SP12/90/12, letter of Thomas Digges to Lord Burghley, 11 December 1572. 

18 British Library, Lansdowne MS 19/30, printed in James Orchard Halliwell, ed., A Collection of Letters 
Illustrative of the Progress of Science in England (London, 1841), 6-7. The precise form of Burghley’s 
“frame” is not known. It is mentioned by Jacob Rathgeb, who recorded the 1592 visit to England by Frederick, 
Duke of Wurttemburg: Jacob Rathgeb, Kurtze und Warhaffte Beschreibung der Badenfahrt (Tubingen, 1602), 
fols. 32 v -33 r , translated in William Brenchley Rye, England as seen by Foreigners in the Days of Elizabeth and 
James the First (London, 1865), 44. For Theobalds, John Summerson, “The building of Theobalds, 1564- 
1585”, Archaeologia, 97 (1959): 107-26. 

19 Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 1478, fols. 1-60. Digges did not retain the manuscript, which was 
acquired by Simon Forman in 1594. In addition to inserting alchemical material, Digges repeatedly 
signed his name and added a ‘q uest i° geographical some algebraic workings, and a list of books which 
are almost exclusively mathematical. 

20 Digges, A Geometrical Practise, sig. A4 r . 

21 Digges, An Arithmeticall Militare Treatise, sigs. A3 r , A2 r . 



IDENTITY OF THE MATHEMATICIAN 


83 


22 For a fuller account of Digges’s changing priorities and his later activities, see Stephen Johnston, 
“Making Mathematical Practice: Gentlemen, Practitioners and Artisans in Elizabethan England” 
(Unpublished PhD thesis, Cambridge, 1994), chapter 2. 

23 William H. Sherman, John Dee: the Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance 
(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), 10-12, 22-3 has recently emphasized the importance 
of Dee’s personal apologetics for an interpretation of his role. 

24 NP, 35. 

25 See David Gwyn, “John Dee’s Arte of Navigation'", The Book Collector, 34 (1985): 309-322, 312, 314- 
5 and NP, 193-4. 

26 For the full title of the “Speculum unitatis: sive Apologia pro Fratre Rogero Bachone Anglo”, see Dee’s 
dedicatory letter to Mercator in PA, 116-7. 

27 MP, especially sigs. Aj v and Aij rv . 

28 PA, 116-7. Both editions listed 11 unpublished works, though Dee revised the list to include some 
different texts in the second edition. None of the works was ever published. 

29 PA, 120-1; MH, 150-3. 

30 John Dee, General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation (London, 1577), 
sig. sij r . 

31 General and Rare Memorials, sig. Aiiij v . 

32 General and Rare Memorials, 11. 

33 General and Rare Memorials, sig. s*iij v ; see also sig. s*j r and 65. 

34 R&W, 10 seem too charitable in accepting that, from early in his career, Dee believed mathematics and 
navigation should “be made known as widely as possible for the good of the state”. As an explicit theme 
this seems to belong only to the 1570s. 

35 Sherman, 4, 150, 152, 173-5. 

36 Christopher. L. Whitby, “John Dee and Renaissance scrying”, Bulletin of the Society for Renaissance 
Studies, 3:2 (1985): 25-36 and NP, Ch.8, esp. 220 onwards. 

37 Nicholas Jardine, The Birth of the History and Philosophy of Science: Kepler’s ‘ A Defence of Tycho 
against Ursus ’ with essays on its provenance and significance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 
1984), esp. Ch. 7. 

38 For Dee’s astrology, see NP, Chapter 3. See also Richard Dunn’s chapter in this volume. 

39 MP, sig. bij v . The reference is to Genesis I, 14. 

40 MP, sig. bij v . 

41 NP, Chapter 4. 

42 In addition to Clulee’s John Dee’s Natural Philosophy, and Heilbron's introduction to the 
Propaedeumata aphoristica (PA, 34-49), see Robert S. Westman, “Magical reform and astronomical 
reform: the Yates thesis reconsidered” in Robert S. Westman and James Edward McGuire, Hermeticism 
and the Scientific Revolution (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1977) and J. Peter 
Zetterberg, “Hermetic geocentricity: John Dee’s celestial egg”, Isis, 70 (1979): 385-93. 

43 John Feild, Ephemeris anni 1557 currentis iuxta Copernici et Rheinhaldi canones (London, 1556), sig. 
Ai r . 

44 Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 1789; see, for example, fol.6 v for “Nicolaus Copernicus, the sixth, and 
most notable lyne of our Astronomicall Dyall”. 

45 Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 1789, fols.6 v , 31 r , and note also fol.8 r : “Copernicus imagineth the 
Theoricall cause hereof [...] whereof, here, is no place to reason”. 

46 MH, 130-1. 

47 For the work of the 1550s, see the Compendious Rehearsall in Crossley, 28 and Bodleian Library, 
Ashmole MS 1789, fol.l0 r ; Digges reports on Dee’s observations of the new star in Alae, sig. B3 r . 

48 Alae, sigs. A4 V , 2A3 r , 2A4 V , L2 V . 

49 Cf. Digges, An Arithmeticall Militare Treatise sig. al r . This high evaluation of the status of mathematics, 
particularly in relation to astronomy, has ancient precedent in the opening section of Ptolemy’s Almagest. 

50 Thomas Digges, Perfit Description in Leonard Digges, Prognostication Everlasting (London, 1576), sig. 
N4 r ; also sig. N2 V for the persuasiveness of Copernicus to “any reasonable man that hath his understandinge 
ripened with Mathematicall demonstration”. 

51 While Digges frequently vaunted (mathematical) reason at the expense of the senses (for example, in the 
Perfit Description, sig. Ml rv ), in Alae, sig. H.4 r he nevertheless acknowledged that the proper practice of 
astronomy depended on two complementary components: disciplined sensible experience as well as math¬ 
ematical demonstration. 




84 


S. JOHNSTON 


52 MH, 174-7. 

53 In Alae, sigs. A3 V , Bl v , Digges referred to extra-geometrical starting points as physical foundations. In 
stressing Digges’s conviction of the radical divide between the terrestrial and celestial, I differ from Johnson 
and Larkey’s interpretation (“Thomas Digges”, 101-2). Wishing to present Digges as an exemplary anti- 
Aristotelian, they attempted to explain away his use of the distinction, seeing it as no more than a sop to his 
readers. This is to misconceive an essential element of Digges’s intellectual order. 

54 I have run together the characterisation in this paragraph from various passages in Alae and Digges, Perf it 
Description. Alae , sig. Al v (the beautiful order of the heavenly bodies), sig. A2 r (the unchanging pure aether), 
sig. A3 V (no substantial change in the heavens), and sig. L2 V (our troubled life on this dark and obscure 
terrestrial star). Perfit Description: the diagram and its captions (the earth as the globe of mortality compared to 
the perfect joy of the habitacle for the elect), sig. M2 r (quotations from Palingenius’s Zodiacus Vitae), N4 r 
(“our Elementare corruptible world” matched against “the glorious court of the great god”). Note that, in the 
preface to A Geometrical Practise , Digges had earlier contrasted Atlas’s imprisonment in a mortal carcass 
here in this most inferior and vile part of the universal world with the pleasant and beautiful frame of celestial 
orbs (sig. A3 1 ). 

55 For Dee’s reading of Proclus, see NP, Chapter 6. 

56 Digges, A Geometrical Practise , sig. S4 V . 

57 Jofrancus Offusius, De divina astrorum facultate in larvatam astrologiam. (Paris, 1570), fols.3 r -5 r . For 
Offusius’s connection with Dee, see Owen Gingerich and Jerzy Dobrzycki, “The master of the 1550 radices: 
Jofrancus Offusius”, Journal of the History of Astronomy, 24 (1993): 235-254. 

58 See NP, Chapters 2-3. 

59 John Roche discusses Digges’s reformation of the astronomical cross-staff in “The radius astronomicus 
in England”, Annals of Science, 38 (1981): 1-32. 

60 Compendious Rehearsall in Crossley, 25. 

61 William Camden, Annales rerum Anglicarum, et Hibernicarum, regnante Elizabetha, ad annum salutis 
MDLXXXIX (London, 1615), 232. In the text to his frontispiece in Alae, Digges says that he has recorded 
the position of the new star in case it retreats back again by divine command before the end of the world. 

62 General and Rare Memorials, sig. s*iiij r . 

63 R&W, 85 ( R&W, no. 251). 10 March 1582 was the date of Dee’s first session with Kelley. For Dee on 
the significance of the anniversaries of the new star, see R&W, 157 (R&W, no.D20). 

64 The term “radicall truthes” comes from Dee’s Liber Mysteriorum, Sloane MS 3188, fol.7 r , cit. NP, 209. 

65 French, 22, 19. 

66 William Bourne, A Book called the Treasure for Travellers (London, 1578), sigs. ***2-3 and introduction to 
book IV. 

67 Edward Worsop, A Discoverie of Sundrie Errours and Faults Daily Committed by Landemeaters (London, 
1582), sig. G3 V . The examples of Worsop and Bourne confirm Clulee’s suggestions on the significance of the 
Mathematicall Praeface\ “It may have been Dee’s ironic fate to have contributed to the progress of science 
among those who were ignorant of the magical direction which Dee thought was the highest level of science.” 
NP, 175. See also French, 173-4 for further contemporary references to the Mathematicall Praeface in the 
same vein. 

68 For Dee’s self-identification as a Christian Aristotle, see General and Rare Memorials, sig. s*j v . On the 
formation of the culture of mathematical practice, see Stephen Johnston, “The identity of the 
mathematical practitioner in 16th-century England” in Irmgard Hantsche, ed., Der “ mathematicuszur 
Entwicklung und Bedeutung einer neuen Berufsgruppe in der Zeit Gerhard Mercators (Bochum: 
Universitatsverlag Dr. N. Brockmeyer, 1996), 93-120. 

69 Sherman, especially 10, 87. 

70 The theme recurs throughout NP, but see the summary statement at 232-4. 

71 Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 1789, fol.26 v . 

72 See, for example, the abbreviated lineage added in the margin of Dee’s copy of The Laws of Hywel 
Dda, reproduced in Sherman, 108. 



RICHARD DUNN 


JOHN DEE AND ASTROLOGY 
IN ELIZABETHAN ENGLAND 


Without doubt, John Dee was a learned and expert astrologer. He has also gained a 
reputation as a unique and revolutionary thinker in this area of knowledge. 
However, by looking at his published and unpublished writings and at the 
relationship of his theories and practices to those of his contemporaries, this chapter 
will seek to show that a dichotomy existed in Dee’s approach to astrology. This will 
reveal that, in different contexts, he was both revolutionary and reactionary. 


ELIZABETHAN ASTROLOGY 

To appreciate Dee’s writings on astrology, it is necessary to look at the general 
background for astrology in the period and at some of its basic principles. From the 
start, it should be realised that although previous treatments have used the term 
“astrology” as unproblematic and simply defined, this has never been the case and 
was not so in Elizabethan times. Rather, there existed a wide range of beliefs con¬ 
cerning the influences of the heavenly bodies. 1 

Almost everyone, even opponents of astrological prediction, accepted at least a 
basic notion, that the planetary bodies had some influence, although this did not 
necessarily go so far as to suggest that the influences were either significantly potent 
or predictable. Henry Howard, a vociferous opponent of astrology, wrote, for 
instance: 

There may bee secrete influence of the Planets I confesse [...] Diverse of these great 
secrete properties are founde, to further or impeach the growth or comming forward of 
such things as are: but not to figure or fortel, the course of any future accident [...]. 2 

Beyond this, however, a widespread notion of a “natural astrology” existed. This 
held that the stars had a discernible and foreseeable effect on things below, and 
considered the celestial influences as inclinations towards, rather than absolute 
determinants of, actions and events. Moreover, these were applied over wide areas 
(regions or populations) rather than to individuals. The predictions of natural 
astrology, therefore, often concerned phenomena such as the weather. Indeed, 
weather forecasting was the most acceptable and widespread form of astrological 
prediction in this period and some opponents of astrology wished this to be its limit: 

Let us conclude (following the common opinion) that Astrologie generally cannot 
foretell any other thing by the knowledge of their art, but that which concerneth the 


85 


S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, 85-94. 
© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



86 


R. DUNN 


constitution of the ayre, and the particular change of that, according to the 
demonstration of the coelestiall signes. 3 

These beliefs could be extended still further, however, to the view that the 
celestial influences were sufficiently potent to determine the course of events at the 
personal level and were highly predictable. This strongest notion of astrology, 
judicial astrology, held that the state of the heavens influenced each and every 
moment of one’s life. Naturally, judicial astrology was highly controversial. 4 

It is worth elucidating some of the basic rules of judicial astrology at this stage, 
since this relates to Dee’s astrology. The key to any prediction was the astrological 
figure (Figure 1). This scheme represented the positions of the heavenly bodies at a 
particular time - in this case at the birth of Sir Thomas Smith’s son in 1547 - as 
seen from the place concerned. The sky at this instant was divided into a number of 
regions, called houses. These were not the same as the signs of the zodiac (Aries, 
Taurus, etc.) but ran across them and were not usually of equal sizes (i.e. angular 
width). Most commonly, as in Figure 1, the chart was divided into twelve houses, 
although eight and sixteen house systems had also been used. Each of the houses 
was thought to govern a different part of one’s life; for instance, the first house 
governed life, the second riches, the third siblings and so on. 



Figure 1. A traditional nativity chart, calculated for the birth of the son of Thomas Smith. 

MS Sloane 325, fol.82\ 




JOHN DEE AND ASTROLOGY 


87 


The positions of the planets were also plotted on the chart. The planets also 
influenced different areas of one’s life, as did the zodiacal signs. It was the 
interaction between these factors that formed the basis of the interpretation of the 
figure, according to a complex set of rules, which could vary enormously between 
practitioners. 5 One key element in the interpretation was the doctrine of aspects. This 
held that only certain angular relationships between the planets were significant. In 
this period, the five major aspects were conjunction (0° between the two bodies 
concerned), opposition (180°), trine (120°), quartile (90°) and sextile (60°). 6 The 
astrological significance of any aspect depended on the planets involved. 

Thus the figure gave a representation of the position of the planets relative to the 
observer’s local horizon. It did not, however, give any indication of the size, 
distance from earth or speed of motion of the planets. These were not necessary for 
the interpretation of a traditional chart and it was rare for any major consideration of 
the physical characteristics of the planetary bodies or of their motions to appear in 
astrological writings. The relevance of this point will become clear in the com¬ 
parison with Dee’s astrology. 

A number of uses for the astrological figure existed. The most obvious was the 
nativity, from which the astrologer made predictions about the subject’s future life 
based on the positions of the heavenly bodies at the time of birth. Other uses 
included mundane astrology - casting a figure in order to predict changes for a 
region or nation - and electional astrology - using a chart to determine the likely 
success of an action taken at a particular time; for example, a sea voyage. The most 
controversial use was the horary question. This was an application in which the 
astrologer cast a figure for the moment at which a query was put to him, and 
interpreted the figure in order to answer that query. Horary figures were used 
extensively by astrologers like Simon Forman, the foremost London consultant by 
the end of the sixteenth century (Figure 2), and Richard Napier, rector of Great 
Linford in Buckinghamshire. 7 


DEE’S ASTROLOGY 

If we turn now to Dee’s astrology, there are two types of evidence available - 
published texts and personal manuscripts. Of his published works, three are 
important: the Propaedeumata Aphoristica (1558, 1568), the Monas Hieroglyphica 
(1564), and The Mathematicall Praeface (1570). 

In the Propaedeumata Aphoristica Dee set down 120 aphorisms outlining a new 
astrological system. The text drew two telling analogies for astrological influence: 
with light and with magnetism. The analogy with light was crucial. By assuming 
that the celestial influences obeyed the same laws as light - in particular, reflection 
and refraction - Dee provided a natural philosophically based mechanism for their 
operation in the terrestrial realm and a mathematical method for their analysis. 8 The 



88 


R. DUNN 


Another example 1596 Maii: 9 ant: mer: 
at 40 m. p. 7 where the cosen sent the urine 
of the sick without the consent of the sicke 
to know the disease & of life & death: of 26 yeares: 



Figure 2. An horary figure by Simon Forman. The figure has been cast for the time at which 
Forman was presented with a sample of urine by a cousin of the patient, in order to 
determine what would happen to them. 

MSSloane 99,fol. P r . 

analogy with magnetism was used to show how, in addition, rays of celestial 
influence could have different effects in different receivers, and that, unlike light, 
they could penetrate solid matter. 9 

Ultimately, Dee sought to show that astrological influences existed as occult rays 
which originated in the heavenly bodies, propagated through space according to the 
theory of the multiplication of species (a medieval concept), and had effects in the 
terrestrial realm dependent upon both their nature and that of the absorber. 10 On this 
last point he stated, for instance, that: “The stars and celestial powers are like seals 
whose characters are imprinted differently by reason of differences in the elemental 
matter”. 11 




JOHN DEE AND ASTROLOGY 


89 


For the purposes of prediction using this new astrology, a different set of para¬ 
meters was brought into play. In traditional systems, the key indicators of the 
influences were the positions of the planets relative to the astrological signs, to the 
houses of the astrological figure and to each other. According to Dee’s system, the 
important factors in the heavenly region were now the occult natures of the planets, 
their distances from earth, and the duration of their time above the horizon, com¬ 
bined with the physical interactions between the rays of different planets. These 
interactions were crucial, and Dee identified over 25,000 different combinations, the 
effects of each of which would have to be discovered and learned. This new set of 
possible interactions replaced the five major aspects of traditional astrology. 

So Dee set the astrologer the daunting task of determining a mountain of 
information before an astrological forecast would be possible. He did, however, 
suggest a means by which the influences and interactions could be studied and 
accurately predicted. Several aphorisms described the determination of the natures 
and strengths of the influences of the heavenly bodies through the application of 
“catoptrics” - the use of lenses and mirrors to isolate and magnify the rays. 12 This 
investigation of the influences also relied on an accurate knowledge of the sizes, 
distances from earth and motions of the heavenly bodies. Consequently, there 
appeared throughout the work calls for concerted efforts in the improvement of 
observational and mathematical astronomy. 13 This task was compounded still 
further, since the astrologer was also required to determine how the nature of 
different absorbers altered the effects of the rays of astrological influence. 

We can summarise, then, which elements of the Propaedeumata differed 
radically from those of traditional astrology. Firstly, Dee provided a physical 
mechanism for celestial influence, something which other treatments failed to 
address. Secondly, this mechanism implied new ways of making astrological 
predictions. Dee’s system seemed to do away with many elements of traditional 
astrology, although it was not clear from the text precisely what the method and 
graphic form of a prediction would now be. Thirdly, Dee demonstrated that the 
foundations of astrology were safe and certain by virtue of their basis in mathe¬ 
matics, and provided a means by which the influences could be discerned and 
predicted through the combination of mathematical theory with observation. In other 
words, he provided a research method for the new astrology. Lastly, Dee’s theories 
showed how the celestial powers could be actively used. While traditional systems 
allowed only passivity on the part of mankind, Dee claimed that it would be possible 
to manipulate the celestial influences and actively bring about wonderful trans¬ 
formations in the terrestrial realm. 14 Thus he stated that: “If you were skilled in 
‘catoptrics’, you would be able, by art, to imprint the rays of any star much more 
strongly upon any matter subjected to it than nature itself does”. 15 

This is not to say that this system was produced out of thin air. Recent authors, 
notably Nicholas Clulee, have shown Dee’s debt to medieval, Arabic and con¬ 
temporary authors, whose works were found in great numbers in his library. It was 
Dee’s combination of and additions to their theories that was novel, rather than the 



90 


R. DUNN 


theories themselves. 16 Moreover, a significant amount of traditional astrological 
theory and terminology also remained. In particular, although Dee seemed to do 
away with the need for a traditional house-based system as described earlier, there 
were references to houses and to the question of house division in the Pro¬ 
paedeumata} 1 Similarly, Dee retained the notion of the significator, another key 
element of house-based systems. 18 

But what was the extent of Dee’s reliance on the house-based system? Clearly, 
he still required a system which would allow the mapping of the positions of the 
planets relative to the observer’s local horizon. He would, for instance, still have 
needed to calculate the position of the ascendant (that part of the sky rising at the 
observer’s local horizon) as a point of origin. But the sort of chart required by Dee’s 
system would also have to include information on the distance of each planet from 
the earth, its size and time spent above the local horizon. This sort of information 
was not included in a traditional astrological figure. A figure produced using Dee’s 
system would have appeared quite different from one produced in a traditional way, 
therefore, although no such figure has yet been identified. 

Among Dee’s other published works, the Mathematicall Praeface related quite 
closely to the Propaedeumata. In particular, the section on astrology in the Praeface 
formed a companion piece to the previous work by providing a general context for 
Dee’s new astrological system. In it Dee explored astrology’s place among the 
mathematical arts, giving it a place in his Groundplat as an “arte derivative” from 
geometry and arithmetic. More specifically, in the main text he stated that astrology 
was allied closely to “Perspective, Astronomie, Cosmographie, Naturall Philosophic 
of the 4 Elementes, the Arte of Graduation, and [...] Musike”. 19 This echoed what 
Dee had written in the Propaedeumata , where mathematics subsumed astrology 
through the association of the rays of celestial influence with the behaviour of light 
(allowing their analysis through the laws of optics). Accordingly, Dee referred in the 
Praeface to “my Propaedeumes” in which “I have Mathematically furnished up the 
whole Method” of astrology. 20 

So the Propaedeumata and the Praeface complemented each other. The 
Propaedeumata showed how astrology was founded in optics, allowing mathe¬ 
matical (specifically geometrical) principles to be applied to its workings and trans¬ 
forming it into a demonstrative science. The Praeface provided a full context for 
this astrology, one which guaranteed its status as safe and certain, as an art aligned 
with the more generally acceptable practical mathematical arts. 21 

In the third text, the Monas Hieroglyphica, we find a more complex situation. 
Clearly the monad of the title related to Dee’s astrology since it appeared on the title 
page of the Propaedeumata and was referred to in the main text of that work. 22 Con¬ 
versely, the Monas contained references to and quotes from the Propaedeumata , 23 
The two works were further linked in that they both discussed superior and inferior 
astronomy, i.e. astrology and alchemy. 



JOHN DEE AND ASTROLOGY 


91 


A more telling link exists, however. According to Clulee’s analysis of the monad 
as a form of universal writing, it was capable of radically improving astrology. The 
generation of the planetary symbols from the monad restored them to their true 
proportions and symmetry and literally imbued them with power. This was power 
that the magus could control. The thrust of the two works thus coincided in their 
implication that the practitioner was able to manipulate the celestial influences and 
so procure great changes in his surroundings and in himself. 

On the other hand, by reducing astrological prediction and manipulation to the 
application of this new universal writing, the Monas seemed to do away with the 
need for astronomical observation and calculation, which was, after all, an area of 
activity explicitly highlighted in the Propaedeumata. This also ran counter to Dee’s 
placement of astrology within the domain of the practical mathematical arts in the 
Praeface. 24 

In these three works, then, Dee made public his plans for a radical new astrology 
susceptible both to accurate prediction and to active manipulation. By looking at his 
personal writings, it is possible to compare his private practices with these public 
proclamations and so assess whether he was able to carry out the revolution he 
proposed. 


Mr. hastings per eode questio 



a 1565 Junii 3 ho" 

1 mi 45 postmerid 

5. 22 
1 45 

7 7 


4 27 2 
2 21 50 

2 5 12 
11 54 

2 17 6 


Figure 3. An horary figure by John Dee. The figure includes the ‘pars fortuna ’ (0) and the 
head and tail of the dragon (Q> and W). These elements, which do not represent physical 
bodies, also appear in Figures 1 and 2. The lower calculation to the right of the figure is of 
the position of the ‘pars fortuna ’ (2 17 6), using the positions of the moon 
(T) at 4 27 2), sun (O at 2 21 50) and ascendant or cusp of the first house (11 54). 

MS Ashmole 337, fol. 41 r . 




92 


R. DUNN 


Dee’s private writings included many astrological notes and figures, including 
calculations of birth charts, and it is worth noting that Dee was arrested during 
Queen Mary’s reign on charges relating to the calculation of the nativities of the 
royal family. 25 Horary figures also appear in his notes; for instance Ashmole MS 
337, now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, contains a series of such charts from 
the 1560s (Figure 3, for example). These indicate that Dee was acting as an 
astrological consultant in the same manner as Simon Forman later in the century. 
Significantly, in his birth charts and horary figures, Dee employed the conventional 
methods and figures of judicial astrology, including elements such as the “p ars 
fortuna” and the head and tail of the dragon. These elements are crucial in 
demonstrating the conventional nature of Dee’s charts. Both the “pars fortuna” and 
the head and tail of the dragon were calculated from the relative positions of the 
planets in the astrological chart and did not in themselves represent physical entities. 
The position of the “pars fortuna”, for example, was calculated from the relative 
positions of the sun, moon and ascendant. 26 Elements such as the “pars fortuna” 
would not have been expected if Dee had been using the system proposed in the 
Propaedeumata, with its strong emphasis on a physical mechanism of influence 
emanating from actual physical bodies. Conversely, if these charts had been 
produced using Dee’s new system, information on sizes, distances and time above 
the horizon should also appear. They do not. Clearly, therefore, Dee was applying 
traditional doctrines in his private astrological practices and his charts resembled 
those of other astrological consultants of this time. 

Dee’s “diary” entries, which appeared as jottings in the margins of the 
ephemerides that he owned, provide more ambiguous evidence. 27 On the one hand, 
they contained numerous notes of the time and place of birth of different people, the 
basic information required for the calculation of a conventional birth chart. For 
example, on 28 February 1588, he noted the birth of his son Theodorus, pointing out 
that Sirius was in the ascendant (i.e. in the first house). 28 On the other hand, the same 
entries also contained notes on the weather on particular days, potentially the basis 
of a systematic programme of observations linking weather patterns with planetary 
positions, the sort of programme called for in the Propaedeumata. 

Lastly, anecdotal evidence comes from the Compendious Rehearsall of 1592, 29 in 
which Dee brought attention to the occasion on which he had been requested by 
Robert Dudley (later the Earl of Leicester) “what in my judgement the ancient 
astrologers would determine of the election day of such a tyme, as was appointed for 
her Majestie to be crowned in”. 30 In asking Dee to consider an election for the 
Queen’s coronation, Dudley expected him to adopt a traditional astrological tech¬ 
nique. 


CONCLUSIONS 

The comparison of Dee’s published and unpublished writings provides an 
ambiguous account of his thoughts and practices in astrology. This uncertainty was 
shared by his contemporaries. Dudley’s request and the services that Dee provided 
as an astrological consultant showed him applying traditional techniques. Similarly, 



JOHN DEE AND ASTROLOGY 


93 


references to Dee in contemporary works made no mention of his revolutionary 
ideas. Rather, his name was produced as one among a number of authorities whose 
support of traditional astrology served to legitimise it. In a defence of astrology in 
Richard Harvey’s analysis of the 1583 conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, for 
instance, Dee’s name appeared alongside those of other English scholars - including 
Robert Recorde, both the Digges and Sir Thomas Smith - who rightly considered 
astrology a safe and legitimate study. Besides contemporary English authors, 
Harvey’s list of worthies also drew on classical, medieval and contemporary 
Continental authors, including Alboazen Haly, Melanchthon, Cardano and Bonatus. 
The context here was traditional astrology and Dee’s rightful place within this 
tradition was emphasised. 31 

Perhaps the explanation for this ignorance of Dee’s radical ideas among English 
authors lies in the fact that his more innovative works, the Propaedeumata and the 
Monas Hieroglyphica were in Latin and may not have been widely disseminated in 
England. His one vernacular work covering astrology, the Mathematicall Praeface , 
discussed a general context for astrology without revealing his plans for astrological 
reform. 

Furthermore, in Dee’s private writings and in his role as unofficial court 
astrologer, we see a conventional approach to astrology, in the calculation of birth 
charts, elections and horary questions, which seems to be at odds with his radical 
statements in his published material. Two explanations for this spring to mind: 
firstly, Dee was acting as an astrological consultant, and so was meeting the market 
requirements for recognisable (therefore traditional) techniques. This would fit in 
with the pattern of Dee’s life, where issues of money and patronage were of 
overriding importance. Secondly, the new system of the Propaedeumata was only 
an outline and still required a huge amount of both accurate astronomical study and 
terrestrial observation (through the application of “catoptrics”, for instance) before it 
could become an effective predictive system. Consequently, the only working 
techniques available to Dee were those of conventional judicial astrology. 

This account of John Dee as an astrologer shows two sides, therefore. On the one 
hand, he was a radical author with high hopes for an astrological system based on 
natural philosophy that would allow accurate determination and manipulation of the 
celestial powers. On the other, he was a conventional, albeit adept, practitioner, held 
in high esteem by his contemporaries as, in his own words, a “perfect and circum- 
specte Astrologien” 32 and as a renowned authority in the ancient astrological 
tradition 


NOTES 


1 Richard Dunn, “The Status of Astrology in Elizabethan England” (Unpublished PhD thesis, University 
of Cambridge, 1992), Ch.2. 

2 Henry Howard, A defensative against the poyson of supposed prophecies (London, 1583), sig. Di v . 

3 William C(ovell), Polimanteia, or the Meanes lawfull and unlawfull to judge the fall of a common¬ 
wealth, against the frivolous and foolish conjectures of theis age (Cambridge, 1595), sig. Hl v . For more 
on weather forecasting, see S.K. Heninger, A Handbook of Renaissance Meteorology (Durham, North 
Carolina: Duke University Press, 1960). 



94 


R. DUNN 


4 Dunn, Status of Astrology, Ch.3. 

5 For more information on casting and interpreting the astrological figure, see Patrick Curry, Prophecy 
and Power (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989), Ch.l; John Christopher Eade, The Forgotten Sky: a guide to 
astrology in English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984); Ann Geneva, Astrology and the Seven¬ 
teenth Century Mind: William Lilly and the Language of the Stars (Manchester and New York: Man¬ 
chester University Press, 1995), Ch.5; John David North, Horoscopes and History (London: Warburg 
Institute, 1986) and other sources on astrological practice. 

6 Some systems also allowed for minor aspects, such as quintile (72°) and semi-sextile (30°). 

7 For more on Forman, see Alfred Leslie Rowse, Simon Forman: Sex and Society in Shakespeare's age 
(London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974); for Napier, see M. MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1981); see also Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London: 
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971), Ch.10. 

8 PA, Aphorisms XV, XXVIII-XXVIIII, XLVI, XLVIII and LIIII. It should be noted, however, that the 
analogy with light was already widely accepted by other authors on astrology. 

9 PA, 132-3, Aphorisms XXIIII-XXV. 

10 PA, 122-7, 134-5, Aphorisms V-X and XXVI. 

11 PA, 134-5, Aphorism XXVI: ‘Stellae & vires caelestes, sunt instar Sigillorum, quorum characteres pro 
varietate materiae elementaris, varie imprimuntur’. 

12 PA, 148-9, 174-5, Aphorisms LII-LIII and LXXXIX. This, of course, followed on from the analogy 
with light. 

13 PA, 136-7, 152-3, 168-9, 240-1, Aphorisms XXX-XXXII, LXI, LXXXIIII and CXVIII. 

14 The nearest comparison to this came in systems of natural magic such as that of Ficino. Relying on a 
Neoplatonic notion of planetary souls, however, Ficino’s method of augmenting the planetary powers 
relied on the use of incantations and incense, rather than on direct manipulation. See Daniel Pickering 
Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (London: Warburg Institute, 1958). 

15 PA, 148-9, Aphorism LII: ‘Kaxo7iTpiKr|<; si fueris peritus, cuiuscunque Stellae radios in quamcunque 
propositam materiam fortius tu multo per artem imprimere potes, quam ipsa per se Natura facit.’ This 
linked back to the idea that by magnifying the powers it would be simpler to discern their effects. 

16 On Dee’s library see R&W, esp. 26 onwards, and NP, esp. Ch.3. See also PA, 50-99. 

17 PA, 158-161,178-9, Aphorisms LXXIII andXCIII. 

18 PA, 174-5, Aphorism LXXXIX. 

19 MP, sig. Bii i v . 

20 MP, sig. biii v . 

21 See also Richard Dunn, “The True Place of Astrology among the Mathematical Arts of Late Tudor 
England”, Annals of Science, 51 (1994): 151-163. 

22 PA, 148-9, Aphorism LII. 

23 MH, Theorem XIX quotes Aphorism CVI of the Propaedeumata (PA, 236-7). 

24 NP, 109-110, 116-121. 

25 Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reigns of Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth, (James I) 
1547-1580 (1581-1625), 12 vols (London, 1856-1872), V, 67. 

26 In the astrological chart, the “pars fortuna” is the same distance of zodiacal arc from the ascendant as 
the moon is from the sun. A number of methods for calculating its position existed. Dee used the method 
attributed to Manilius. See F. Gettings, Dictionary of Astrology (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 
1985), 233. 

27 See, for example, Ashmole MS 488, a copy of Magini’s Ephemerides of 1582. These entries were later 
compiled as Private Diary. 

28 Private Diary, 26. 

29 The Compendious Rehearsall appears in James Crossley, ed., Autobiographical Tracts of Dr. John Dee 
(Manchester, 1851). 

30 Crossley, 21. 

31 Richard Harvey, An Astrological Discourse upon the great and notable conjunction of the two superior 
Planets, Saturne & Jupiter (London, 1583), 4 et seq. 

32 MP, sig. biii v . 



PART TWO: DEE AND MARITIME AFFAIRS 



ROBERT BALDWIN 


JOHN DEE’S INTEREST IN THE APPLICATION OF 
NAUTICAL SCIENCE, MATHEMATICS AND LAW TO 
ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


INTRODUCTION 

Although John Dee’s first teaching appointment was in classics at the new Trinity 
College, Cambridge in 1547, he was soon off abroad to buy books later that year, 
and going on extended trips to the Universities of Louvain and Paris in 1549 and 
1550 to study the practical application of mathematics to navigational problems. He 
learned much there about the relationship of these matters with geography, politics 
and international law, as well as acquiring a number of instruments. Dee had re¬ 
turned by 1551, taking service in February 1552 with William Herbert, the Earl of 
Pembroke, who through his marriage to Anne Parr remained very influential at 
Court until his death in 1570. Dee would share many of the same interests with the 
Welsh-speaking Earl and his sons, from Welsh history, to the law on mineralogy and 
prospecting, metallurgy, to cartography and exploration. Those shared interests 
shaped the Herbert family’s investment decisions in respect of their estates in Wales 
and Gloucestershire, where they successfully exploited coal, iron and copper 
deposits, and the losses they incurred due to over-confidence in the American ores 
found on Martin Frobisher’s northern voyages to “Meta Incognita” between 1576 
and 1578. 

Dee claimed to have been offered a mathematics lectureship at Oxford in 1553-4. 
His purchase of Ptolemy’s Mathematica constructions liber primus in Oxford on 16 
April 1554 attests to his new need for mathematics textbooks. Another surviving 
mathematics textbook from his library, acquired in 1551 and subsequently annotated 
in 1555, suggests a friendship with Edward Bonner, Bishop of London. 1 

Although Dee retained many friendships made in that formative decade from 
1545 to 1555, the navigational instruments and globes which he had bought while 
abroad were tentatively offered to Trinity College and St. John’s College in 1550. 
There is real doubt over whether the newly established colleges retained them, for 
they were certainly in Dee’s house at Mortlake by 1568. They included a treasured 


97 


S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, 97-130. 
© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



98 


R. BALDWIN 


variation compass, several ordinary sea compasses, a “most excellent clock by 
Dibbley”, two Mercator globes heavily amended in his own hand, a “magne[t] 
stone”’ (i.e. a lodestone), a “radius astronomicus” and a ring dial sold to him by 
Gemma Frisius in Louvain. Dee certainly taught their use in his own library at 
Mortlake and added to this collection a large astronomical quadrant made in 1551 by 
his ill-fated but distinguished sea-going pupil, Richard Chancellor. 2 

In 1551 Dee had worked under the patronage of the Duke of Northumberland 
with Richard Chancellor, Hugh Willoughby and Sebastian Cabot in preparing 
various Atlantic ventures and the 1553 expedition to Russia. He certainly formed a 
close friendship with Richard Chancellor as they evaluated together the viability of 
the Duke’s various schemes. 

As a result Dee possessed a version of Chancellor’s manuscript account of his 
exploration past the North Cape along with another version by Hugh Smith which 
included a small sketch map of their discoveries near Novaya Zemlaya. He also 
retained one of Chancellor’s quadrants, and Chancellor’s work on a diagonal scale. 
In 1557-1558 Dee worked with Stephen Borough through the technical problems of 
preparing a chart of the far northern waters explored by the latter in 1556. He would 
engage in related correspondence with Gerard Mercator and Abraham Ortelius from 
the time that Ortelius’s cordiform world map appeared in 1564. Dee compared 
Mercator’s maps with “my friend Stephen Borough, his platt”, a chart of the North 
East Atlantic now known through the survival of part of it copied by William 
Borough and now in Trinity College Dublin. 3 

From about that time Dee took to heart much of the practical navigational advice 
of Martin Cortes’s Breve Compendio de la sphere y arte de navegar 4 translated 
between 1558 and 1561, as the Arte of Navigation through the initiative of Stephen 
Borough and Richard Eden. In particular Dee followed Cortes’s earlier educational 
advice that subjects that were difficult to convey in writing should be presented as 
platts or charts. Dee can be seen working on this proposition both as the “paradoxall 
compass” (or circumpolar chart) in 1557-8, and in other navigational charts, but also 
exploiting it as “the Groundplat of my MATHEMATICALL Preface annexed to 
Euclid (now first) published in our Englishe toung”, published by Henry Billingsley 
in 1570 as The Elements of Geometry. 5 He used the same device as a “Platt of a Petty 
Navy Royall”, and as a “platt politicall” when setting out his case for an imperial 
strategy published as The General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect 
Arte of Navigation in 1577. 6 In the manuscript of the next but one part of the work, 
The Great Volume of famous and Riche Discoveries, Dee shows misplaced con¬ 
fidence that he would soon be vindicated by the exploration of his pupils Martin 
Frobisher and Christopher Hall. This comes out in the following remark which also 
hints that Dee himself considered making a voyage to the Far North as it asserts: 

I trust with one or two complete surveys, after this to be performed by my travail [...] 
that all the northern part of Asia, with the two principall cities thereof, Cambaia and 
Quinsay, will become to the British natural inhabitants of this Monarchy so well known 
as are the coasts of Denmark and Norway and their periplus. 7 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


99 


Teasing Ortelius on account of his earlier correspondence and fully aware that 
Humphrey Gilbert had only copied Ortelius in making his map in 1566 (published in 
1576 showing the most northerly point as “C. de Paramantia”), Dee wrote on 16 
January 1577 to ask: 

on what authority you have placed the Cape Paramantia and Los Jardines on the 
northern coast of the Atlantic, and of all the other things, which you are the first and 
only one to place in that region. 8 

This in turn provoked Ortelius to visit his cousin in London in March 1577. 
After discursive meetings with William Camden and Richard Hakluyt, Ortelius 
visited Dee on 12 March 1577. Dee then helped Burghley to finalise instructions for 
Frobisher’s second voyage, using ideas derived from Mercator’s letter of 20 April 
1577. 9 


DEE’S TEACHING 

Dee’s navigational teaching had initially followed the largely mathematical syllabus 
taught in London from 1547 by a fellow Welshman, Robert Recorde. From 1560 
onwards Dee set about correcting some of Recorde’s textbooks for re-issue after 
Recorde’s death in 1558 because those texts were used to instruct the Muscovy 
Company’s pilots. 10 Recorde’s Castle of Knowledge, as published by Reyner Wolfe, 
was re-issued in London in 1561 in an edition reflecting more of Dee’s tuition. This 
edition was taken by Frobisher to the North West in 1576 along with four other 
works - all obviously taken because of Dee’s recommendation as to their 
geographical and mathematical content. They were Dr William Cunningham’s 
Cosmographicall Glasse , conteyning the pleasant principles of Cosmographie, 
Geographic, Hydrographie, or Navigation (London: John Daye, 1559), Pedro de 
Medina’s, Regimento de Navigacio (Seville: Simon Carpintro, 1543) - more than 
likely in one of the revised formats issued in 1552, 1562 or 1563 - plus two works 
by Andre Thevet; one possibly La Singularitez de la France Antarctique, autrement 
nominee Amerique (Paris, 1558) or a manuscript version collected by Thevet about 
1563; the other certainly was the much larger volume, Cosmographie Universelle, 
just published by Pierre Hullier in Paris in 1575 and replete with useful maps, 
especially a recent and detailed one of North America. 11 

One of Dee’s library catalogues shows the items that John Davis and Nicholas 
Saunder had stolen from it in 1584 as “Jo. Davis spoyle”. On 30 March 1592 Dee’s 
diary recorded that “Mr. Saunder[s] of Ewell sent home my great sea cumpass: but 
without a needle: it came in the night by water.” In 1592 these items, and the 
unrecovered books in particular, were cited in evidence to the inquiry conducted into 
Dee’s losses. In the same context Dee described his house at Mortlake as “Mort- 
lacensi Hospitali Philosophorum peregrinatum” revealing the open way in which he 
ran his library. 12 

Within the opportunity that his Mortlake home offered he nurtured an inter¬ 
disciplinary approach which took his pupils’ understanding far beyond the theorems 
so ably advanced by Robert Recorde and Henry Billingsley. This became par¬ 
ticularly clear in February 1570 when he set out definitions of those navigational 



100 


R. BALDWIN 


sciences which were still new to many English readers in his preface to Billingsley’s 
The Elements of Geometry . He also defined navigation as the demonstration of the 
shortest (and therefore cheapest) safe and convenient route for a ship between two 
accurately defined locations. 

Revealingly, he defined the science of hydrography, which: 

delivereth to our knowledge, on Globe or in Plaine, the perfect Analogicall description 
of the Ocean Sea coastes, through the whole world: or in their chiefe and principall 
partes thereof: with the lies and chiefe particular places of daungers, conteyned within 
the boundes, and Sea coastes described: as of Quicksandes, Bankes, Pittes, Rockes, 

Races, Countertides, Whorlepooles. &c. [...]. And besides thys, Hydrographie, 
requireth a particular Register of certaine Landmarkes [...] and what way, the Tides and 
Ebbes, come and go, the Hydrographer ought to recorde. The Soundings likewise: and 
the Chanels wayes: their number, and depthes ordinarily, at ebb and flud, ought the 
Hydrographer by observation and diligence of Measuring, to haue certainly knowen. 

And many other pointes, are belonging to perfect Hydrographie, and for to make a 
Rutter [...]: as of the describing, in any place, vpon Globe or Plaine [chart], the 32. 
pointes of the Compase, truely: (wherof, scarsly foure, in England, haue right know¬ 
ledge: bycause, the lines therof, are no straight lines nor Circles). Of making due 
proiection of a Sphere in plaine. Of the Variacion of the Compas, from true Northe 
[-]. 13 

In 1570 Dee declared the spirit in which he entered into such teaching as “To 
stirre the imagination mathematic all: and to inform ye practice mechanicall.” 14 In 
this spirit, and in his consideration of geography, Dee gave much thought to means 
of putting theoretical geometrical projections to practical use in navigation. In 
August 1576 Dee wrote to John Daye saying that he had invented the circumpolar 
chart or “Paradoxall Compass in playne” in 1557, and describing his realisation that 
a circumpolar sea chart could be of very considerable help in the assessment of real 
distance across the icy waters of the latitudes that Stephen and William Borough had 
been required to explore between 1556 and 1576. 15 

To Dee, the navigator’s precision was just one part of the complex concept of 
place which he applied to overseas opportunity. He probably vested extra charac¬ 
teristics in it beyond those discussed in Ptolemaic texts because he realised that, 
while one could define a place by means of latitude and longitude, he could offer the 
sailor no convenient means to determine longitude at sea where it mattered most. 
Dee was not a natural sailor but his own experience of seagoing would serve to 
focus his mind on how his skill in spherical geometry and his knowledge of 
terrestrial variation might be put to practical use. As his mind turned over those 
problems in later years, he began defining the location of some lesser known 
contexts by means of antiquarian research. This features in his work on Wales 
compiled in 1574, 16 but most dramatically in the text of four out of the five claims of 
prior discovery he asserted on verso of his chart of the North Atlantic clearly ruled 
and drawn up in 1578, although not finished and dated until 1580. 17 This was 
expressed as ‘A brief remembrance of sundry forein regions, discovered, inhabited 
and partly conquered by subjects of this Brytish Monarchic’. 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


101 


This map contains by far the most accurate data on the south-eastern part of 
Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island, of any contemporary map of Frobisher’s discoveries. It 
must derive from his privileged access to the voyager’s charts and journals between 
1576 and 1580. However, its ruled graticule suggests Dee was as concerned with 
other related problems, such as the convergence of meridians, and how to present a 
navigator with the cartographic and toponomic realities. In doing this he thought not 
in the time-honoured manner of the land lawyer, nor in compliance with the Privy 
Council’s instructions that Frobisher’s discoveries be kept secret, but more prac¬ 
tically about how to present visually the problems of what compass course to steer, 
and how far along the North West passage were the newly discovered mines. 

Clearly Dee’s regular cross-channel trips had helped him grasp the practical 
navigational value of the coastal view to the sailor - views such as those that 
accompanied Pierre Garcie’s popular printed rutters for the French and English 
shores. In consequence Dee counselled Hall to prepare similar views of Iceland and 
Meta Incognita. Hall duly named the first new view of mountains in Iceland which 
he had time and visibility to draw in his journal, “Dee’s Pinnacles”. 18 

Another crude manuscript near polar chart drawn at sea in 1580 for Dee is to be 
found in British Library, Cotton MS Otho EVIII, Art 16, fol. 77. Its data on the 
Viagatz passage south of Nova Zembla was a corrective to Dee’s chart drawn some 
months before that sketchy survey. Dee’s instructions to Charles Jackman and 
Arthur Pet for the voyage to Cathay and Japan reveal Dee’s huge confidence in his 
own charts as the latter part of the title states: “With which instructions a new chart 
(made by Hand) now given allso to eche of the sayd two masters, expressing their 
Cathay voyage more exactly than any other yett published.” 19 

That same fire-damaged text clearly relates to a signed circumpolar chart which 
Dee drew for Pet before his departure in 1580, and which survives in an atlas in the 
library at Burghley House, Stamford. A text written below it (thus on the back of a 
printed world map) is in Burghley’s hand and describes Frobisher’s voyages of 
1577. It captures the strategic concern of Burghley and Dee about such northern 
passages about Latitude 64 degrees North. 20 Dee’s chart (Plate 1), but not the 
appended comment in Lord Burghley’s hand, once accompanied a copy of the 
explorers’ instructions dated 17 May 1580. That chart illustrates the importance that 
Dee also attached to gathering and studying Oriental cartography, for the Far 
Eastern part of the map at Burghley House suggests that Dee already had access to a 
Chinese map printed in 1536. 21 Nonetheless, at Dee’s instance, Jackman and Pet 
were instructed to procure any new maps and charts drawn or published in China 
and Japan. 22 

Finding the theoretical North Easterly route impassable, Pet returned home in 
March 1581. Jackman’s ship was only lost after he parted company with Pet in 
February 1581 to re-explore the North West passage and perhaps the mines and 
supplies which he knew from personal experience had been abandoned by Frobisher 
in 1578. Indeed, a tiny part of Jackman’s logbook from William Borough’s former 
ship, the Judith , described his encounter with the coast of Meta Incognita (i.e. Baffin 
Island) which he explored with Frobisher in 1578. This fragment survived in Dee’s 



102 


R. BALDWIN 



Plate 1: John Dee’s circumpolar chart, drawn in 1580. Reproduced by courtesy of 
the Burghley House Collection. 









ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


103 


library and is now in the British Library. 23 In 1581 Jackman lost his life in 
enthusiastic pursuit of that other chimera, the northern route that had brought about 
the association of Dee and Jackman with Michael Lok, William Borough and Lord 
Burghley, and all as a result of Frobisher’s limited grasp of the severe challenge of 
near Arctic exploration even in the months of July and August. 

Dee’s conviction about the value of the “Paradoxall compass” (or circumpolar 
sea chart) in illuminating the theoretically shorter northern ways to Cathay and 
Japan seems to have remained largely intact despite disappointments and lives lost 
by his pupils like Chancellor and Jackman in search of it. The disappointments in 
this respect which stung Dee more began with John Daye’s refusal in 1577 to 
publish the large “Paradoxall chart” and associated tables that had figured in Dee’s 
manuscript as completed the previous year. 24 

That disappointment had been assuaged by Daye’s publication in 1577 of the 
massive first part of Dee’s General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect 
Arte of Navigation , and by a general enthusiasm surrounding Martin Frobisher’s 
voyages of 1576 and 1577, based on the hope that gold-bearing ores had been 
discovered midway along the North West passage. Gold seemed in turn to offer a 
commercial underpin and a reason to proceed to the establishment of a colony. Thus 
in 1578 an expedition with fifteen ships was sent to establish a permanent mining 
colony where Fenton intended to winter with a party of miners. 25 This investment 
was justified by doubtful assays and sustained by unproven theories about the 
circulation of water underground and the formation of metals which had clearly 
informed Dee’s review of the same subjects published in his Monas Hieroglyphica 
in 1564 and which re-appear in his preface to Billingsley’s work in 1570. 26 But 
through 1578-83 virtually all the justification for the venture was unravelled by 
discord, huge financial losses and by disillusion over the metallurgists’ skills. Had 
Frobisher’s voyages been successful commercially, Dee’s reputation as an advisor 
and shareholder would have risen. As it was, Dee’s reputation and self-esteem in 
those marine and metallurgical circles suffered severely. 

Except insofar as he had had some practical knowledge derived from 
experiments and from officially watching some of the hot assays of the Frobisher 
ores, Dee’s competence was more that of the well-read theorist rather than the 
practitioner. His skills were no match for the status he was accorded by the Privy 
Council as a Commissioner for the Assaying of ore from the North West. His status 
as a navigational tutor and experimental metallurgist was largely advanced before 
1583 through his own theoretical advocacy of both and the reading his own large 
library of mathematical, navigational, metallurgical and alchemical works allowed. 

His practical experience of some of the ideas he advocated comprised no more 
than some small-scale alchemical experiments in the laboratory adjacent to his 
library. Having seen the larger-scale work done by Jonas Schutz and other metallur¬ 
gists at first hand in London and Dartford, and having discussed its theoretical basis 
with them, John Dee must also have realised during the winter of 1578-79 that 
Schutz had fundamentally failed the Adventurers. In this context it is significant that 



104 


R. BALDWIN 


after the Cathay Company’s erstwhile Treasurer, Michael Lok, had been cast into 
London’s debtors’ prison, John Dee began his own programme of alchemical experi¬ 
ment on “marcasite” at Mortlake. His activity is recorded in some detail in a text 
which shows he had framed his questions in a quasi-scientific way, and then tried to 
test them. Dee’s own records of all this appear in the Bodleian Library’s MS 
Rawlinson D241, entitled “An autograph of Dr John Dee containing a Diary of some 
Chemical Triels”, which records experiments conducted by Dee between June and 
December 1581. At folios 1-8 Dee was concerned to explore the properties of rocks 
identified as “Marcasite”, which was the identification given by contemporaries and 
the sailors who wrote accounts of the rocks brought from the Arctic by Frobisher’s 
fleets. He too found that it held no gold. 

Dee’s status in such matters was not totally destroyed by this because he had 
another specialised body of knowledge about mining and mining law which could 
not be devalued by the assayers of Frobisher’s ores who continued their activity up 
to the end of March 1583. This legal knowledge was derived from his collection of 
historical works, law books and sets of bylaws produced in south German, 
Bohemian and Hungarian mining communities. 27 His geographical reading, esp¬ 
ecially in theoretical and economic geography, was wide but no less thorough. 
Although his lack of knowledge of how such practitioners and artificers operated 
day by day let him down, was Dee justified in looking for some intellectual and 
economic coherence in the application of mathematics, navigation, geography, 
geology and metallurgy? 

Dee did not realise that his “paradoxall compass” was virtually the same thing 
that some Spanish navigational instructors in the Casa de Contratacion had adopted 
in 1522 after Sebastian del Cano’s circumnavigation. 28 Dee may simply have 
advanced the idea in 1557 on seeing how Mercator’s terrestrial globe was completed 
with a small circumpolar gore. 29 English Atlantic voyages to the gold-rich Guinea 
shore from 1554 onwards gave firmer encouragement for English mariners to turn to 
him for instruction in the skills of celestial navigation and mathematical correction 
to observations taken far out in the Atlantic. But Dee almost certainly did not have 
that first-hand experience of voyaging to St Helena in 1562-63 which Coote 
suggested in his entry for the Dictionary of National Biography. In 1562-63 Dee 
was actually travelling about Europe from Antwerp visiting various Italian cities and 
going as far as Bratislava and its nearby mines in 1563. 30 Was that European tour 
devised to collect books of reference and atlases and so test the coherence of a 
grander intellectual theory? 

Dee’s reading and travels ensured that many others consulted him on what trades 
and what geographical ideas to develop, while he himself continued to correspond 
with overseas mathematicians and cartographers. 31 Dee’s circle of visitors included 
men who brought him new knowledge about the Atlantic; some deposited items with 
him ranging from logbooks, such as Christopher Hall and Charles Jackman entrusted 
to him, to large and detailed plane charts of the Atlantic such as one by the exiled 
Simao Fernandes which was copied in Mortlake on 20 November 1580 as: “The 
counterfet of Mr Fernando Simon’s, his sea carte which I lent unto my Master at 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


105 


Mortlake, A[nno] 1580 November 20. The same Fernando Simon is a Portugale 
born in Tercera being one of the Isles called Azores.” 32 

For these and closely-related reasons, Dee’s charts were thought of as state-of- 
the-art geographical and political statements. Thus Dee’s large Atlantic chart drawn 
in 1578 shows the growing seaborne contact England enjoyed with her new ally in 
Morocco, as clearly as the new discoveries in Meta Incognita “presently by our 
people to be inhabited”. 33 That map was also a way of illustrating the strategic 
importance of the Azores and the campaign of 1578 to 1582 fought between Philip 
II’s Armada and Dom Antonio’s rival forces which were operating with English 
naval support. The latter were co-ordinated in London through Dr Hector Nunez and 
other Portuguese religious and piratical exiles known to Dee and Burghley. 

Upon that uniquely scholarly exchange of knowledge, and a complex history of 
claims and counter claims to the North American shore exchanged with Sir Humfrey 
Gilbert beginning on 6 November 1577, Dee developed another odd relationship. It 
was mutual respect which led Dee to give Sir Humfrey Gilbert a circumpolar chart 
showing much more of the Americas in 1582. This famous chart is now in the Free 
Library of Philadelphia. 34 It informed Sir Humfrey Gilbert’s fatal voyage in the 
Squirrel in 1583 and his formal claim to Newfoundland. 

Rather similar matters were discussed with John Davis and Adrian Gilbert 
(another of Dee’s pupils) in Dee’s presence from 23 January to 6 March 1583. These 
led to a formal proposal submitted as “A brief collection of the substance of the 
grant desired by the discoverers of the North West partes”. 35 Under this a fifth part of 
all discoveries of gold, silver and pearls would be due the Queen but power to make 
laws there would be surrendered to the “Fellowship of New Navigations Atlantical 
and Septentrional” in which Adrian Gilbert, John Dee and John Davis were to be 
exempted forever from payment of customs “having been the chiefest travellers to 
find out this northerly voyage, and being of that company.” Dee’s advocacy of the 
spatial realities conveyed by the circumpolar chart not only seemed to qualify him as 
one of the chief armchair travellers, it also led a desperate Michael Lok to produce a 
similar one in 1582 engraved on copper for Richard Hakluyt, showing the form and 
location of Frobisher’s discoveries. 36 

THE SPECULATIVE CLIMATE 

It is significant that both Lok and Dee produced their charts amidst other work on 
vastly detailed assemblages of supporting data and advice exactly as if they had 
something to prove. They had. Both mens’ reputations had been badly damaged by 
the catastrophic failure of the Cathay Company’s speculative attempt to colonise and 
extract the ores of Kodlunarn Island and other sites in Meta Incognita in 1578. 37 
Until 1583 Dee also harboured the hope of locating a copper mine in the project to 
colonise Newfoundland. 

It is evident that both Dee and Sir Francis Walsingham struggled to recover from 
their serious losses following the Cathay Company’s voyage to the South Atlantic in 



106 


R. BALDWIN 


1582. But Dee could not afford to await the outcome of that voyage to re-establish 
his position. It was as well that he did not, even though briefly he considered 
embarking for Newfoundland early in 1583. Considering the interests of his wife 
and family he chose Cracow and Prague instead, embarking from Sheerness on 20 
September 1583 for Bremen, Lubeck and Rostock, and thence through Poland to 
Cracow. In preceding this with a careful catalogue of his books, before packing 
carefully selected ones, he shows his choice was a well-considered risk, and one 
made with the promise of funding from Prince Laski. Edward Kelley’s advice, how¬ 
ever derived, alighted on the main chance too. So it was Dee’s choice to immerse 
himself in central Europe which he hoped would help make a greater success out of 
his metallurgical and astronomical knowledge. Consequently he took only a few of 
his reference books and metallurgical texts to Europe. 38 

In some ways Dee was correct in his assessments of his economic prospects in 

1583. English investors were not in a position to make an immediate success from 
exploration and metallurgical discoveries in America. Only Drake’s spectacular 
captures of rich Spanish cargoes during his circumnavigation in 1577-80 saved the 
Crown and many of the Privy Council from severe financial embarrassment. 39 

It was nearly four months after Dee left that the next step was taken to organise 
further English colonial enterprise. On 6 February 1584 Adrian Gilbert, John Davis 
and Sir Walter Raleigh (a name entered in Dee’s stead) gained the letters patent they 
had sought with Dee in 1583. But in 1584 they only just managed to fund another 
exploratory voyage to North America’s shores, with Simao Fernandes acting as 
pilot. Further settlement was not attempted until May 1585. Under Governor Lane, 
the first Virginian settlement contained a comparable mathematical intellect in 
Thomas Harriot, and in Joachim Gansz a brilliant Czech metallurgist who would 
successfully operate a furnace at Roanoke. 40 

Dee did not return to England until after Thomas Harriot’s Briefe and True 
Report of the Newfoundland of Virginia had been published in 1588, with just a few 
hints about the presence of copper resources inland. John White’s belated attempt at 
resupply in 1590 marked the failed end of that venture and it was becoming clear 
that Dee had little new to offer the maritime community except perhaps for some 
legal ideas that would appear in his Thalattokratia Bretanniki in 1597 to justify 
British claims to St George’s Channel and the North Sea. 41 

Deacon’s hypothesis that Dee’s time in central Europe reflects his employment 
by Walsingham as a secret agent or technological spy is only partially substantiated 
by his evident knowledge of ciphers and the evidence of one of Dee’s letters to 
Walsingham written from Trebona. 42 But that he was sufficiently embarrassed finan¬ 
cially in 1583 to take virtually any paid employment is also clear. The circumstances 
of Dee’s return in 1589 serve only to suggest that in 1583 he had faced a personal 
and financial crisis in choosing whether to exploit his knowledge of navigation or 
metallurgy. Another man with a keen interest in metallurgy, and who played a pivotal 
role observing the assays from 1577 to 1579, was Richard Young, a Commissioner 
appointed by the Privy Council, who lived in Stratford to the east of London, and 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


107 


with whom John Dee would stay for about three weeks on his return from Europe, 
having travelled via Bremen to arrive on 23 November 1589, as Dee’s own diary 
entries attest. Dee had written to him as “Justice Young” on 20 August 1589, 
describing the state of the Netherlands, and advising him of his intended return, but 
it was a document that found its way to Walsingham and so into the State Papers. 43 
It suggests Walsingham was suspicious of Dee’s plans and the use of his library, as 
Dee had been a commissioner for the North West Parts and their Ores since 1577, 
and therefore had retained some vital documents. 

Young must have taken time in November 1589 to brief Dee on all that had 
happened, and vice versa. The fact that Dee’s first visitor on 19 December 1589 at 
Mortlake was Adrian Gilbert, a difficult protege now aged 45, offering recompense 
for the Coombe Martin mines and for goods carried away, can be no coincidence. 
That Richard Young was the man who finally sorted out Dee’s debts in late 1589 by 
persuading Adrian Gilbert to make Dee significant compensation, and so allowed for 
his re-entry as Nicholas Fromond’s tenant to his Mortlake home and library on 10 
December 1589, is almost certain. 

Richard Young was first present with Dee at the assays of Frobisher’s ores on 8 
March 1577 in London. The Commissioners appointed to view the assays were John 
Dee, Edward Dyer, William Wynter, Edward Hogan, Thomas Randolph and Sir 
William Pelham, and Andrew Palmer knew of the offers that Michael Lok made for 
the Meta Incognita ores. 44 It may give more idea as to how closely the Com¬ 
missioners were bonded by their experience from 1577 to 1583 that Dee’s diary 
hints at a rather closer relationship with Richard Young, calling him his brother. Dee 
perhaps meant a brother in law by his first wife Katherine Constable. Dee had had 
another reason to keep close to Richard Young, for both were tardy over a freighting 
liability to Thomas Alleyn for the 1578 voyage and both were subscribers to the 
Frobishers’ voyages, Young for £50 to the second and £50 promptly paid for the 
third. 45 

Dee’s relationship with a newly wealthy Adrian Gilbert, renewed at Young’s 
instance in December 1589, provides one key to Dee’s new confidence that he could 
satisfy his creditors. Gilbert’s largesse, arising from his usurping Dee’s interest in 
Coombe Martin’s mines, was then put at the disposal of Dee, meeting debts to the 
Birckman’s executors and others. Until then Dee was evidently fearful of the 
consequences of the resentment in court circles about the failure of the Cathay 
Company and the Commissioners like himself, Richard Young, and Edward Dyer, 
all appointed by the Privy Council to oversee smelting operations but without the 
means to meet the large debts consequential upon its failure to trade as an 
incorporated body. 

From 1574 to 1583 Dee had found himself trapped by his enthusiasm for 
metallurgical investment, making both right and wrong choices, but seeing no real 
benefits for himself until 1589, despite the fact that Frobisher’s metallurgists could 
draw on their successful regional experiences throughout England and Wales to 



108 


R. BALDWIN 


exculpate themselves from the worst of their misjudgements on the Meta Incognita 
ores. 

Some of the most important practitioners were denizens from central Europe, 
and brought their ideas directly from European practice. By 1576-77 their industry 
could be seen as enjoying unprecedented growth, for the number of men employed 
in it in England and Wales grew hugely between 1566 and 1576. It has been 
estimated that the Company of Mines Royal and the Company of Mineral and 
Battery Works together created new employment for 10,000 men over that decade. 46 
This success contrasts starkly with the otherwise lacklustre performance of the 
English economy from 1561 to 1574. This contrast underlies the misplaced 
confidence of speculative investors in 1576, 1577 and 1578. Frobisher’s attempt to 
meld in one venture new navigational and metallurgical skills along with a new legal 
claim of sovereignty owed much to Dee’s vision. However, it was intrinsically 
flawed. 

Between 23 January and 6 March 1583 Dee was in two minds as to how he 
would meet any consequential claims, and where to direct his resources and 
energies. His decision to invest in the Coombe Martin lease shows the same self- 
confidence as was evident when he concurrently helped formulate fresh plans for a 
return to the North West of America with Adrian Gilbert and John Davis. 47 But his 
confidence collapsed in August and September 1583. Acting on Kelley’s advice and 
obviously for his family’s sake, Dee chose the lesser of two speculative risks by 
concentrating on his metallurgical and alchemical opportunities, rather than the 
seaborne risks associated with sub-Arctic exploration - risks which were more 
appropriate to younger men and seasoned mariners. It was a decision that would 
effectually cut him adrift from England’s seafaring community and lose him 
valuable assigned incomes such as that from the Deanery of Gloucester. In the years 
after 1589 he would only have a Doctorate in medicine from Prague University to 
show for his choices taken in September 1583. 


INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO DEE’S THOUGHT 

Dee’s actions have to be viewed as determined by his own version of an inter¬ 
disciplinary, technological and mathematical vision of the Habsburg Empires. He 
first encountered that vision in the University at Louvain. There at first hand he met 
the Professor of Mathematics, Gemma Frisius and his talented pupil Gerhard 
Mercator developing a co-ordinated geo-political vision of the benefits of navi¬ 
gational theory, mathematics, geography, metallurgy and hydrography. Dee met this 
again in Paris University in 1549-50 in the teaching of Oronce Fine and Pierre 
Ramus. It was a structured system of quasi-colonial thought developed initially in 
the Armazens da Guinee, Mina e India in Lisbon, attended with success because 
gold was found in Guinea (hence the Gold Coast) and at Sofala in East Africa in 
1505. The whole notion was brought to its academic apogee by his great friend and 
fellow mathematician, Pedro Nunez. 

Dee returned to England in 1551 but not before acting as some kind of 
encouraging go-between in Antwerp in 1550 for Joachim Gundelfmger who was 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


109 


seeking through diplomatic channels to place under young Edward VI’s patronage a 
skilled team of central European miners, prospectors, assayers, charcoal-burners and 
fumacemen. 48 They eventually settled in Ireland at the charge of Edward VI to be 
supervised rather ineffectually by Robert Recorde as Master of the Mint and Mines 
in Ireland. Gundelfmger’s team were probably Protestant or Lutheran in sympathy 
as they formally approached Edward VEs Council with their proposals. By 1551 
William Williams thought their work as lead and silver smelters at Clonmines was 
no more effective than that of their English and Irish associates. 49 It was another ten 
years before Daniel Hechstetter was able to bring such a team of Germans to 
Cumberland with William Cecil’s help. 50 It remained rare for their practices to be 
written down in any detail in England, albeit Hechstetter’s son did make the attempt 
to write up all their established “recipes”. 51 

However, best central-European practice was manifest in the form of local 
printed bylaws about assaying described as “Probierbuchlein”. An early model of 
their form was one produced at Magdeburg in 1524. From 1564 to 1581 John Dee 
made a large collection of these localised assaying treatises, such as Zimmerman’s 
Probirbuchlin, published in Augsburg in 1573 which advocated wet assays using 
acids. Other “Bergwerkbuchlein” in Dee’s Library covered mining bylaws current 
when they were printed. 52 In those formative years Dee made a special point of 
collating all such metallurgical advice and German law-books on mining practice, 
much of which he obviously shared with the Herbert and Sidney families during his 
lifetime. Dee certainly used his own copies of probierbuchlein such as Lochner’s, 
for his library held the 1564 and 1574 versions, several of Agricola’s works, and 
Zimmerman’s Probirbuchlin Germanici as published at Augsburg in 1573 in 
shaping his advice. 53 In 1574 Dee’s strategic conclusions from this reading and 
academic learning were brought to new focus by Richard Grenville’s proposals, and 
later in May by Michael Lok’s which resulted in the dispatch of Frobisher to search 
for the North West passage. 54 Dee compounded his mistakes with over-confidence 
on 3 October 1574 in writing to Lord Burghley offering to discover a mine of gold 
or silver within the Queen’s dominions. 55 Late in 1574 Frobisher gained a derogation 
from the Muscovy Company’s monopoly (which must have been known to Lok and 
probably Dee) to pursue exploration of a north-western passage to Cathay and 
Japan, and to evaluate any mine-sites that might be found along the way. Lok later 
implied that Dee first became involved in May 1574 saying just that Dee became 
interested ‘on hearing the common [gossip] of the new enterprise’. 56 By 1576-77 
Dee’s related ideas on the sea transport and navigational skills needed to transport 
mineral wealth were consolidated for limited publication as a vast tract called rather 
misleadingly, the General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of 
Navigation. (Plate 2) 57 

Another major contribution to Dee’s thinking came from the circumstances of his 
patron, William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who was made President of the Council 
of Wales and the Marches in 1550 and had taken Dee into his service in February 
1552. The Earl was personally very interested in augmenting his estate incomes from 
mines and metallurgy, particularly in the great swathe of new family lands in the 
Forest of Dean, and ex-monastic lands in the Black Mountains and down towards the 






Mm 

IHRi 

Shs Ms& a 


R. BALDWIN 


' NER AL and rare memorials 

pcrtayning to the Pcrfeft Arrt of 

NAVIGATION: 
fe the P a n a n o * 4 I CtnnpAi , in Vhym . 
nowfirii puMiflictl : yeres, a fur the Frfl 


Plate 2: The Frontispiece of Dee’s General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the 
Perfect Arte of Navigation (London, 1577). Reproduced courtesy of Durham 
University Library. 




































ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


111 


sea near Swansea acquired in 1546. To exploit this effectively he and his sons 
needed both mineralogical and legal advice, and some of the newer technical skills 
like cartography and men with metallurgical experience in the development of 
water-powered blast furnaces. In 1559 the Earl acquired in fee simple the ex¬ 
monastic land of Neath Abbey and the Manor of Neath and Cadoxton for £3200. 

Just as the Earl’s activities followed up Richard Eden’s ideas so Dee found two 
role models on which to base his new technologically advanced naval strategy. One 
was the Earl, the other his newly wealthy naval neighbour at Lydney, Sir William 
Wynter, who became a shareholder in the Company of Mines Royal in November 
1567. Following some major legal decisions in 1569 and 1581, the Earl’s son, who 
had been quite closely associated with Philip II’s metallurgical advisors in 1554-56, 
saw the way open to encourage the building of a major copper smelter completed by 
Joachim Gansz in 1582. Located beside the river at Neath, that smelter was ideally 
placed to smelt both Welsh ore, and those found in Cornwall and North Devon. The 
Coombe Martin mine with its seaside location was to be Dee’s way of entering the 
same league after William Wynter, the Earl of Pembroke, Sir Thomas Gresham, and 
Dee’s closer friends Edward Dyer and Richard Young had all lost money and 
reputations in the Cathay Company debacle. Dee sought a formal lease on the 
seaside mine from 1583 knowing that if it were to be successful much of the ores 
could be smelted in the Neath smelter for it was easily shipped from the hard 
standing of Coombe Martin’s harbour. 58 

John Dee signed and sealed a lease on the Coombe Martin and nearby Knap 
Down mines in Sir Lionel Duckett’s London house on 13 March 1583, but his 
interest presumably was usurped by John Poppler and Adrian Gilbert in 1587. None¬ 
theless on 19 December 1589, about a decade after an earlier reconciliation with his 
ambitious pupil, Dee was offered generous compensation for his Coombe Martin 
mining lease by Adrian Gilbert. 59 

If the idea of a seaside mine was a failure in Meta Incognita, and pursuit of the 
consequential debts a major factor in determining the timing of Dee’s flight, the 
harsh cliffs of North Devon were to confer commercial success on the concept by 
the late 1580s. By 1587 Adrian Gilbert and John Poppler had successfully obtained 
a lease to work the discovery near Coombe Martin, known as Fayes Mine, which 
would yield £10,000 to each partner in it in 1587-8 and 1588-9. 60 Subsequently, two 
famous silver bowls were made from the silver of Fayes Mine. 61 Long after Dee’s 
death, and well after Bevis Bulmer had received a knighthood and succession to the 
title of ‘Master of Metals’ for his work in Scotland, the economic geography fore¬ 
shadowed in Dee’s interdisciplinary thinking cohered within a wider industrial 
revolution. Mining developments by the seashore between 1579 to 1588 showed the 
way. 62 



112 


R. BALDWIN 


THE ROOTS OF DEE’S INTEREST IN COASTAL MINES 
AND METAL TRANSPORT 

Dee’s interest in mines and metallurgy was less in the detailed engineering than in 
the legal, strategic and practical circumstances of the marine movement of lucrative 
non-ferrous ores. The common technical root in this thinking can be traced back to 
the accumulating influence of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and his 
advisors John Dee and Sebastian Cabot and Richard Eden who from 1547 onwards 
successfully transplanted to England some of the interdisciplinary thinking 
developed earlier in Iberian ports. But it was just a one-way shift, for Cabot himself 
leaked the essence of the plan for a sea borne raid on Peru’s new silver mines to 
Charles V in November 1553 if not a year earlier. 63 

Through this time, and in particular as a result of Queen Mary’s marriage to 
Philip II of Spain, English attention became concentrated on developments within 
the Spanish Empire. Among the consequences were some translations by Richard 
Eden initiated from texts that had become known to the Duke of Northumberland. 
They were dedicated by Eden to the Duke in 1553 as A Treatise of the Newe India. 
Two years later Eden translated further foreign texts including The Decades of Newe 
Worlde or West India Conteyning the navigations and conquests of the Spanyardes, 
Sebastian Munster’s Cosmography , Antonio Pigafetta’s account of Magellan’s 
circumnavigation in 1519-1522, Lopez de Gomara’s work the The debate and stryfe 
betwene the Spanyardes and Portugales, Amerigo Vespucci’s text Of the Pole 
Antarticke and the Starres abowt the same and a most important text, Biringuccio’s 
Pyrotechnia, or Booke of Metals. In his preface to the Booke of Metals, Eden gives 
three reasons for translating it, suggesting there was an obvious need for further 
guidance among both sailors and the propagandists of Empire in both metallurgy 
and navigation. He wrote: 

It seemeth to me a thing indecent to read so much of golde and sylver to knowe lyttle or 
nothing of the naturall generation thereof [...] and secondly that [...] if in trauayling in 
straung[e] and unknowen countreys he may knowe by the information of th[e] 
inhabitaynts or otherwyse, that such regions are fruitful of the riche metals he may 
make further searche for the same. The third cause is, that although this oure realme of 
Englande be ful of metals [...] yet there is fewe or none in England that have any great 
skill thereof, or anything written in oure owne tounge, whereby men may be well 
instructed of that generation and finding of the same: as the lyke ignorance hath been 
among us touching Cosmographie and Navigation until I attempted according to the 
portion of my talent and simple learning to open the first doore to the entrance of this 
knowledge into owre language. 64 

The speculative climate which so boosted mining investments in England and 
Wales was the direct result of a case heard before the Court of Exchequer in 1569, 
Regina v. the Earl of Northumberland. The vital conclusion was that the contents of 
mines containing precious metals were not necessarily bespoke for the sovereign 
under English law. If less than 50% by value of the output of a mine were gold and 
silver it was available for general sale. The monarch might then have just a share of 
those proceeds, say 20%. This in turn gave hope of a wave of overseas finds of gold 
and silver similar to the Mexican gold rush of the 1520s. 65 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


113 


Those who put such a strategic vision before Edward VI and later Elizabeth I, 
included William Cecil and William Wynter who, like Dee, were greatly attracted 
by the new confidence of technical practitioners in navigation, geography, 
mathematics and metallurgy, and by their misleading theory that in certain places 
water could help deposits of minerals to grow. The same enthusiasms were shared 
by two more of Dee’s friends who held potentially lucrative office as Customers of 
London, Henry Billingsley and Sir Thomas Smith. While Dee’s connection with 
Billingsley has already been described, the investments of Sir Thomas Smith in the 
Company of Mines Royal and the Company of Mines and Battery Works, and the 
unincorporated Cathay Company, also mirrored Dee’s interests and extensive 
reading in metallurgy and the organisation of mines. 66 The influence of Burghley and 
Wynter ensured that in 1577 Dee and some officials of the Royal Mint and 
Armouries were appointed as Commissioners charged by the Privy Council with 
investigating and appraising the methods used to smelt the rocks brought back from 
Kodlunarn Island by Frobisher’s ships. 67 

By 1578 the disreputable smelting practice of Battista Agnello and Burchard 
Kranich had been exposed by Robert Denham; and Dee was among the first to 
know, as Lok would show. But Jonas Schutz’s reputation was not so quickly 
destroyed. Dee had taken out two Cathay Company subscriptions or options that he 
could not afford. Up to November 1578 he avoided paying up his £100 to the 
Treasurer, Michael Lok. 68 By then the Treasurer had spent huge sums on building a 
special water-powered blast furnace at Dartford to Schutz’s specifications, confident 
it would perform as well as the new furnace, construction of which he had 
supervised at Keswick during 1576. But during the winter of 1578-79 Schutz, like 
Robert Denham and Roger Williams after him, was subject to inevitable failure as 
the surviving hornblende feed stocks from the Baffin Island sites were found to 
contain virtually no gold. 69 

It was Schutz’s failures at Dartford which finally pricked the speculative bubble 
despite talk of defects in the design of the furnace. 70 Thereafter Dee’s debts arising 
from book purchases and his unwise speculation in the Cathay Company began to 
loom large in appraisals of his position, and determined his flight in September 
1583. 


THE NAVIGATIONAL CONTEXT OF DEE’S TEACHING 

Dee had long realised that in order to bring home the proceeds of overseas mines 
reliably (as the economic underpin to envision a future British Empire) the 
techniques of oceanic navigation would have to be mastered too. Thus it is no 
surprise that it is from the era 1557 to 1583 that much of our knowledge of Dee’s 
navigational understanding derives. 

By this time Dee himself was in possession of Robert Thorne’s papers about the 
basic proposition of a passage to Asia north of the Americas and of maps and data 
assembled for Cardinal Wolsey about 1527. 71 The basic concepts must also have 
been well known to Dee as a regular user of the Royal Library in Whitehall where 
charts by Girolamo Verrazano and Sebastian Cabot hung in the Royal Privy Gallery. 
Both were remarkable for their lack of detail on the far north east and north west. 72 



114 


R. BALDWIN 


Dee’s account of his involvement in Frobisher’s voyages suggests he became 
involved early in 1576. 73 Lok’s account says that Dee became formally involved in 
Frobisher’s project on 20 May 1576 when, along with William Borough and Chris¬ 
topher Hall, he attended Lok’s London home. 74 Lok wrote that he then laid before 
them books, charts and instruments and “my notes thereof made in writing as I had 
made them of many yeres Study before”. 75 

Dee seemed convinced and expressed his willingness to help. Soon afterwards, a 
former Lord Mayor, Sir Lionel Duckett of the Company of Mines Royal and the 
Muscovy Company invited Dee to Muscovy House, specifically to instruct 
Frobisher, Hall and Owen Griffin for a few days before their departure. Dee gave 
them an intensive course in celestial navigation and cosmography and related 
subjects so that they could also survey the land they might encounter. Dee retro¬ 
spectively recorded instructing the expedition’s “Masters and Mariners in the use of 
[instruments for Navigation in their voyage [...] whereby he deserveth just com¬ 
mendation.” 76 That commendation he duly got in the form of a letter sent from 
Shetland by Frobisher and Hall in 1576 acknowledging his ‘friendly instructions’ 
and adding, to what were probably their written notes, “we doo remember you and 
hold ourselves bound to you as youre poor disciples”. But the rest of their letter 
suggests Dee’s teaching was far too advanced mathematically for them to use 
regularly. 77 

Dee nonetheless had faith in Hall and may well have lent him his own variation 
compass for the first voyage. Dee probably also had a direct hand in formulating the 
list of instruments bought for the first voyage. The surviving account shows that to a 
great extent they replicate the items known to be in Dee’s library and that the 
purchases made in 1576 were largely from Humfrey Cole. But those who have 
commented on this to date have all relied upon the Record Commissioners’ 
transcripts made in 1833 which were incomplete. In consequence they have failed to 
see some vital innovations. The “great globe of metal in blancke” came in a “case of 
leather” so that it could be taken to sea alongside the armillary sphere correctly 
named “armilla Ptolomaei, or hemispherium”. 78 

More particularly the few who have commented on that list have missed the 
significance of the print of Ortelius’s chart for which the cost was deliberately 
omitted by Lok, and which was consequently also omitted by the Record Com¬ 
missioners in 1833. Lok’s deliberate omission was probably because the map and 
other instruments were borrowed from Dee. Support for this comes from the fact 
that the inventory of purchases was not sufficient for the first voyage’s two ships as 
in many cases only one instrument was purchased in 1576 by Lok. 79 So in addition 
to the data which the Record Commissioners failed to cite, the original accounts 
show payment of £3. 3 shillings to “William Thomas, Compasse maker for twenty 
compasses of divers sorts” and 17 shillings “for 18 hower glasses, some paid to him 
£4”; and “paid for an Astrolabium of William Burowe, £3. 10 shillings”. That 
astrolabe was unlikely to be Dee’s planispheric astrolabe as had been suggested by 
some commentators who had relied on the Record Commissioners’ transcripts, and is 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


115 


much more likely to be Borough’s own mariner’s astrolabe. 80 Furthermore that astro¬ 
labe does not correspond readily with the one kept in Dee’s library, the history of 
which has been traced by Julian Roberts. 81 

William Borough’s astrolabe (also unduplicated in the inventory) had been made 
to the standard form of the mariner’s astrolabe, so well described in Martin Cortes’s 
manual which his father, Stephen Borough, had brought from Seville in 1558 and 
which Eden translated as The Art of Navigation in 1561. That text described in 
precise detail how to make a mariner’s astrolabe but not how to make a planispheric 
astrolabe. 82 

William Borough had himself made many voyages to Russia, via the North Cape 
in 1553, 1556 and 1567 and through the Baltic in 1558-67 and 1569-70 and 1574- 
75. When acting in an official capacity after 1576 William Borough was usually 
described by Lok as “my Lord Admiral”, but this cannot refer to his later naval 
status as Treasurer of the Navy, a post carrying the nominal rank of Vice Admiral 
which he held from 1582; or as Comptroller of the Navy, a post he held from 1587 
to 1598. Thus Lok must be referring to his status within the Muscovy Company, 
where after due instruction from Dee from the 1550s onwards he rose to and through 
the rank of Chief Pilot. By 1585 Borough had become Master of Trinity House on 
account of his established navigational skills. 83 

Dee had by 1576 assembled a collection of sea compasses in his library. 84 The 
reason for this was probably his interest in using those compasses to investigate 
magnetic variation. The assumption then widely made was that on completion most 
compasses varied slightly in the amount of variation from true north shown for the 
place of manufacture. But if variation were to be determined either by local 
anomalies (or by changes in longitude as was then postulated) all the compasses 
should record the same differential in degrees or points of the compass, even though 
the actual measurements might differ. Indeed an English rutter which can be dated 
from internal evidence to 1578 contains an element entitled “William Borough’s 
rules” recording changes in latitude and just such compass variation, expressed as 
points of the compass for the voyage from Orfordness past the North Cape to 
Russia. 85 Other notes in a different hand at the end of the document may also refer to 
large-scale compass variation calibrated in degrees and on a scale which would only 
be encountered near the north Magnetic Pole. Borough’s curiosity over terrestrial 
magnetism and its application to navigation can be traced through Dee’s tuition and 
thence into Hall’s detailed interest in terrestrial magnetism. Richard Madox during 
the Cathay Company’s voyage to the South Atlantic, on 15 November 1582 wrote of 
Dee’s pupil, Hall [alias Pallinurus], stating: 

Pallinurus told me as a certainty that when they were in the North West, they passed 
close to the coast commonly called Labrador, in Lat. 63 they found the noon sun two 
points from the compass, whence I gather that the needle deviates 22 degrees to the 
west which if it is true that it is so suggests to me that the rule is the nearer the pole the 
greater the deviation of the needle, etc. I do not know, however, by what hidden force it 
is impelled. 86 



116 


R. BALDWIN 


Yet, 20 years before the Spanish king offered a large prize for such a solution in 
1598, George Best would reveal that Dee had already put the pilots of Frobisher’s 
Arctic voyages onto the same opportunity. We now know this was a false hope, but 
it was one which would nonetheless result in useful and helpful increments to the 
data appearing on charts. In so doing, Best overstated the competence of most 
English masters in celestial observation and navigation even as he hoped that 
endeavour might enable true North to be compared with a localised reading for 
magnetic north, and that in due course such measurements could be reduced to a 
predictable table or chart. Best wrote of this challenge that: 

in these dayes it is likely to receive his perfection, concerning his Northeasting and 
Northwesting to be brought into rule, and particularly in this noble voyage of Captain 
Martine Frobisher, who as you shall understande in the discourse, hath diligentlye 
observed the variation of the Needle. And such observations of skilfull Pylots, is the 
onely way to bring it in rule, for it passeth Natural Philosophy. The making and 
pricking of Cardes, the shifting of Sunne and Moone, the use of the compasse, the hour 
glass for observing time, instruments of Astronomie for taking longitudes and latitudes 
of Countreys, are so commonly knowen of every Mariner now adayes, that he hathe bin 
twice to sea, is ashamed to come home, if he is not able to render account of all those 
particularities. 87 

Dee was also intrigued by other navigational problems which might be tackled 
by the application of mathematics and geometry. Dee’s library contained works 
which reflected his concern to solve the problem of the nautical or spherical triangle. 
To this end he acquired Peter Apian’s Instrumentum Sinuum primi mobilis in both 
its 1534 and 1541 versions, and Rheticus’s tabular version of 1551. He also retained 
Richard Chancellor’s notebooks after his death at sea in 1556. This may have served 
to concentrate his mind on this, for he could then see the value of knowing the 
shortest way (and therefore the great circle distance) between two places. Arbitrary 
as this was for land sites because such a route could not be followed due to the 
terrain, it seemed of great potential value to the long distance oceanic navigator, and 
a natural question for anyone like Dee with access to globes to postulate. Dee’s pro¬ 
gress with this can be seen in his “Canon Gubernauticus” or “An arithmetical Reso¬ 
lution of the paradoxall compass”. His 28 pages of manuscript tables therein show 
how he tried as early as 1557 to set this understanding down in a two-dimensional 
“paradoxall compass” or chart. 88 

As he also suggests there that the circumpolar chart he described should be 
drawn up on paper with “the diameter fifty inches”, it becomes clear this was asking 
too much of the engraver and printer to capitalise for publication. Thus this material 
probably represents what John Daye wisely encouraged Dee to discard as incon¬ 
sequential between mid August 1576 and September 1577. Something of the flavour 
of that editorial process nonetheless survives in the only volume of the four intended 
volumes of Dee’s General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of 
Navigation, for there Dee states “The second book or volume [...] will be of more 
than hundred pound charges to be prepared for the print (in respect of the Tables and 
figures thereto requisite).” 89 

At the same time as rather ineffectually proofing that text for printing, Dee 
attempted to collate his notes on antiquarian and geographical accounts of many 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


117 


voyages via the South Atlantic as far as Cathay and other parts of the Pacific Rim. 
He ordered the 250 folios of that manuscript into twenty-eight chapters between 24 
March and 8 June 1577. That manuscript, entitled Of Further and Rich Discoveries , 
was assembled in expectation of a favourable outcome to Frobisher’s second voyage 
and a surge of public interest. That publication was aborted by Daye, who as early as 
November 1577 got cold feet about the project in the light of the first reports on the 
Frobishers’ second trip to the North West. Dee himself lacked the means to fund it 
alone. 

But Dee had another distinct strand to add to his status in these matters. This was 
not prejudiced, but indeed advanced over the next year as fifteen ships under 
Frobisher’s command were sent to the North West in 1578 to settle a mining colony 
on the Countess of Warwick’s Island, now called Kodlunarn Island. Dee’s con¬ 
fidence stemmed not from the assays of early 1577, but from a quintessentially 
geographical and legal view derived from his reading. This bore fruit as a five-point 
presentation of Elizabeth I’s claim. 90 The fifth point was: 

A nn o 1576 et 1577. 5. The Hands, and Broken land Easterly: and somewhat sowth of 
Labrador were more particularly discovered and possessed A[nn]o 1576, and the last 
year by Martin Frobiysher Esquier: and presently is by our People to be inhabited: The 
Totall Content of which lands thereabowt by our Soveraigne queene Elizabeth is lately 
named Meta Incognita. 


This was expressed on the other side in the form of a chart of the North 
Atlantic which Dee revised in 1580. 

THE POLITICAL CONTENT WITHIN DEE’S NAVIGATIONAL TUITION 

Dee’s appreciation of England’s potential place in international affairs revolved 
around his vision of a “British” Empire. In this Dee was acting in pursuit of an inter¬ 
disciplinary, technocratic and mathematically informed vision of the Iberian 
overseas empires which he had encountered at first hand in Louvain in 1547. His 
ideas involved keeping a fleet of 60 large warships on constant patrol and able to 
extend their influence into the Atlantic. As such it bears some similarity to the 
contemporary ideas advanced by Pedro Menendez d’Aviles to protect Spanish trans- 
Atlantic interests. 

A survey of the shipping of Queen Elizabeth’s realm made in 1560 suggests 
there were 79 large English ships operating commercially and that the Queen owned 
30 more specialised fighting vessels. The corresponding list for 1577 shows that 136 
ships over 100 tons were available but most of them were built as merchantmen. 91 
The Queen certainly could not afford the cost of about £200,000 in order to keep 60 
large ships at sea and even had to hire out some of her ships. 

Dee’s scheme for “A Petty Navy Roy all” was advanced early in his great text on 
navigation, showing its central importance in his thinking. Beginning on page 3 of 
the General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation he 
defines its function as to deter France, Denmark, Scotland and Spain from invasion 



118 


R. BALDWIN 


or naval threats designed “to annoy the blessed state of our Tranquillitie”. Even 
today, Dee achieves resonance in proposing strategic deterrence, and to finance his 
proposals with a 10% tax on foreign fishing vessels. 92 

The strategic purpose of Dee’s Petty Navy Royall was the case that Fortescue 
had advocated a century earlier. The strategic perceptions about an overseas empire, 
and the possibility of conquering Scotland and Ireland by permanent naval and 
military forces were no more than an echo of the basic propositions in Thomas 
Ely of s book, The Governour, published in 1531 and well known and read in Court 
circles by royal advisors from Thomas Cromwell to Lord Burghley. Elyot also saw 
the strategic role of maps, a subject dear to Dee’s heart, writing in 1531 that a ruler 
needed to see his realm “in figure” to determine “where he shall employ his study 
and treasure, as well for the safeguard of his country as for the commodity and 
honour thereof.” 93 

Dee’s considered thoughts about applying navigational know-how in political 
contexts were set down in his manuscript “Brytanici Imperii Limites” in 1576-78 
and in “Thalattokratia Bretanniki” (British Sea Sovereignty). Sherman has shown 
they relate more to international power politics and law than to navigational 
science. 94 

Dee’s strategic naval ideas circulated narrowly. 95 He still had in his library in 
1583 sixty corrected copies from a print run of no more than one hundred copies of 
the General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation. Thus 
it is difficult to suggest that Dee was better attuned to the strategic naval issues 
through unofficial briefing, or as a secret agent of Walsingham’s, than his learning 
and experience might sustain alone. Although Dee had a hundred copies of his 
General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation printed 
by Daye, he retained sixty in his own library, suggesting that his circulation was 
exactly the same as the number of investors in Frobisher’s third voyage, less 
himself. It would thus have reached the Queen, her principal advisors, her courtiers 
and Lok’s London associates. Its ideas may well have helped sell to those investors 
the strategic points and synergies embodied in the hopes for settlement at Kodlunam, 
and for English trade revival based on using the North West passage. When Davis 
and Saunder stole so many of his texts in a raid on his library in 1584 they probably 
thought that he knew much more about Polar navigation and geography than he had 
published. On 26 March 1591 the cartographically astute Robert Beale returned his 
manuscript, Of Rich and Famous Discoveries. Although 1592 saw Dee accounting 
for his losses and trying to recover his navigational texts from Davis and Saunder, 
he was only partially successful. Perhaps the depletion of his library and the fact of a 
continuing state of war with Spain gave rise to new emphasis in Dee’s final marine 
work Thalattokratia Bretanniki as finished in September 1597. This asserted British 
claims to St. George’s Channel and the North Sea and the value of actively patrolling 
on that basis given persistent Spanish naval threats. Perhaps as a result of earlier 
disillusionments Dee now chose not to develop any more navigational or geo¬ 
graphical theories but to use his legal reading more intensively instead. By then he 
was immersed in the Wardenship of Manchester College, as an armchair lawyer and 
Paracelsian doctor, enjoying occasional visits from surveyors such as Saxton, and 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


119 


teaching the mathematical principles he had learned in Louvain fifty years earlier 
only when the occasion served. 

Nonetheless something of Dee’s legalistic and imperialist teaching certainly had 
an impact on some of his other pupils; notably on George Best, described variously 
as a gentleman, captain, lieutenant, and the sailing master who accompanied Fro¬ 
bisher to the North West in 1577 and 1578. Best’s considerable literary skill and 
navigational knowledge contributed to speculative propaganda and the new legal 
claim that had stimulated such vast over-investment by members of Elizabeth’s 
Court. 

Apart from Michael Lok and his family nominees, and Martin Frobisher who had 
direct access to Dee’s tuition, the major investors in Frobisher’s voyages came from 
the Elizabethan Court. They included Elizabeth herself, her trusty Lord Treasurer, 
Burghley, the Lord Admiral, Clinton, the Earl of Sussex, Henry, Earl of Pembroke, 
Francis Walsingham, the Earl of Warwick, Lord Hunsdon (Henry Carey), Sir 
Thomas Gresham, Sir Francis Knollys, William Wynter, and the Countesses of 
Warwick and Pembroke. Other investments of a smaller order were made by many 
members of Elizabeth’s Court and by several city associates of Michael Lok. All 
presupposed success. Some may have invested at the instance of Dee himself. Many 
must have thought that the Privy Council’s clear regulation of all aspects of the 
venture would ensure that their involvement was a safe investment. It was far from 
safe; indeed the Privy Council’s instructions, and their omissions such as the failure 
to have the Cathay Company formally incorporated, probably worsened the pro¬ 
spects of success. 

However, it was another aspect of Privy Council involvement which touched 
Dee most directly. None but their appointed commissioners could keep the ship’s 
detailed journals, rutters and charts from Frobisher’s voyages. 96 Yet Dee was clearly 
so interested in their content, that he was tempted to exploit his status as a Com¬ 
missioner to ensure that some of the prime elements prepared by his pupils ended up 
in his own library. He certainly retained Hall’s journal of Frobisher’s Third Voyage 
and part of Jackman’s to both of which he added titles; also Sellman’s manuscript, 
which was formally handed in to Lok on 2 October 1578, but which Dee himself 
transcribed in full and subsequently annotated. 97 The Privy Council’s intention was 
not that Dee should have retained such data for his own library. 

In the event, the Privy Council’s controls which aimed at official custody for all 
maps, journals and logbooks were even more ineffective than Dee’s actions suggest. 
Important details of ore samples and a chart had reached Madrid by March 1579. 98 
While the content of the official journals and charts were quite properly known to 
Dee, they were also commented upon improperly by George Best who accepted that 
neither the charts, nor the journals, nor the assay results could be transcribed because 
ofthe Privy Council’s instructions. The instructions were designed to stop foreigners 
examining the expedition’s work. Sellman observed the restriction by handing Lok 
his account on 2 October 1578. But late in 1578 Settle and Best got away with it lest 
the attempt to stop them should cause the financial bubble to burst. Nonetheless, by 



120 


R. BALDWIN 


including what was by his own admission poor quality mapping, “roughly framed, 
without degrees of Longitude or Latitude”, Best was able to show how effectual 
Dee’s thinking had been without explicitly breaking the rules for participants and 
copying the officially issued charts drawn by James Beare. Best felt his crude world 
map showed how: 

my minde was to make knowne to the eye what countries have beene discovered of late 
yeares, and what before of olde time. The olde knowne partes have their boundes traced 
and drawen with whole lines, the newe discovered Countries have theyr bounds drawen 
wyth points or broken lines, whereby the reader shall at the first sight see [...] within 
these 80 yeares, that have so muche enlarged the boundes of the Worlde, that nowe we 
have twice and thrice so much scope for our earthlie peregrination, as we have had in 
times past, so that nowe men may no more contentiously strive for roome to build a 
house on, or for a little turffe of one acre or two, when greate Countries, and whole 
Worldes, offer and reach out themselves, to them that will first vouchsafe to possese, 
inhabite, and till them. Yet there are great countreys yet remaining withoute Maysters 
and possessors, which are fertile and bring forth all manner of corne and grayne [...] 
straunge beastes and fishes, both in sea and fresh waters. Mountains bringing forth all 
ma nn er of Mettals as gold, silver, yron, &c." 

CONCLUSIONS 

The publication of Dee’s first volume of his General and Rare Memorials per- 
tayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation in 1577 came as the Queen, the Court and 
Lok showed appreciation of points Dee had been making for over twenty years to 
the trainee pilots of the Muscovy Company and to their predecessors. Dee’s 
practical contribution to an emergent European tradition of exploiting mathematical 
ideas in the service of navigation would be taken further by other navigational 
instructors. One of them was Thomas Harriot who embarked for Virginia in 1585. 
There is evidence that thereafter Harriot and Dee maintained a friendly relation¬ 
ship. 100 Furthermore the fact Dee took firm steps to recover those texts comprising 
“Jo. Davis’s spoyle” during the early 1590s shows that he never lost interest in 
nautical science even if he hardly advanced it any further through his writings after 
1583. 

Another person to make very similar speculative mistakes to Dee, and yet to 
have great faith in technological and mathematical advances was Sir Thomas 
Gresham. His will of 1575, proved in 1579, effectively founded the Gresham 
College Professorships in Law, Astronomy, and Geometry and four other subjects 
on Lady Gresham’s death in December 1596. This illustrates his commitment to the 
same body of technologies that Dee had helped to develop before 1583. Unlike Dee, 
Sir Thomas Gresham could well afford to gamble in subscribing to the Cathay 
Company ventures after he had retired from acting as the Crown’s principal 
financial agent in 1574. 101 In fact Gresham was determined right up to 1579 to keep 
faith with the ideas developed by Dee and Borough despite the failures associated 
with the Frobisher voyages of 1576-78. 

When considering navigational instruments like the globes and the armillary 
sphere bought for Frobisher from Humfrey Cole in 1576, alongside the plainer cross 
staff, and a mariner’s astrolabe bought second hand from William Borough, as Lok 
records, we have to remember that the purchases of globes and compasses for 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


121 


Frobisher’s voyages reflected Dee’s own collection, and his tuition in the use the 
variation compass in particular. 

It remains a good measure of the scientific advances that Dee prompted between 
1576 and 1580 that the Hatfield House chart, formerly No. 98 (Plate 3) drawn by 
William Borough and marked up by Christopher Hall, informed the subsequent 
publications of Robert Norman and William Borough on terrestrial magnetism. 102 It 
thus anticipated by 120 years the assemblage of the magnetic data that Edmund 
Halley published in 1700 for the whole Atlantic. 103 Likewise, the purchases made in 
1576 by Michael Lok even as Gresham and Sir Lionel Duckett were talking about 
the precise skills that were needed by Frobisher, Hall and Griffin, illustrate the 
impact of Dee’s tuition. This wider competence was why in 1576 Dee had been 
chosen by Duckett to teach those particular skills and set them in a practical context 
for his pupils’ sake. 

A subsequent result of those conversations among the most concerned of the 
investors was one made only after more political lobbying and interference, 
including some from the Rev. Richard Hakluyt, as he alludes to the matter in 1598. 104 
Their mutual concern was that Sir Thomas Gresham had posthumously endowed a 
Professorship of Astronomy to teach “the principles of the spheres and theoriques of 
the planets and to explain the use of common instruments for the capacity of 
mariners, which being read and opened, he shall apply to use by reading geography 
and the art of navigation in some one term of every year.” 105 

Under Sir Thomas Gresham’s will the Professor of Geometry was to teach 
arithmetic, and theoretical and practical geometry including the use of globes. Con¬ 
currently, also under the terms of Sir Thomas’s will, the Mercers Company were 
jointly to sponsor the lectures in “law”. One measure of Dee’s strategic influence is 
the change he promoted in the associated legal, financial and political climate as he 
sought to foster a maritime strategy with associated overseas settlement and colo¬ 
nisation. The breadth of Sir Thomas Gresham’s endowment was very much the 
product of Dee’s advocacy of these subjects as inherently inter-related. 

Dee’s charts, showing that all these factors were considered at once, are still 
important to the assertion of Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic; in particular there 
is one we have examined which bore a five-point claim to sovereignty on the 
reverse. Quite as useful is William Borough’s chart as supplemented with Hall’s 
magnetic data for the locations mentioned in his journal of the third voyage. Dee’s 
advice as given in 1576 shaped how Hall’s log and chart recorded the places where 
the ceremonies of taking possession in the name of Elizabeth I took place. Those 
ceremonies themselves were influenced by Dee’s tuition of Frobisher and Hall and 
his extensive reading on the assertion of legal sovereignty by the European powers. 
However, Dee’s General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of 
Navigation makes the equally important point about his endeavour that “the End of 
Ends, and the uttermost scope of the said Arte of Navigation, is such Publick 
Commodity.” 106 Dee’s understanding of “Publick Commodity” necessarily evokes 
his almost mystical vision of the usefulness of a mathematical approach. He defined 



122 


R. BALDWIN 



Plate 3: A navigational chart of the North Atlantic, 1578. Drawn by William 
Borough, revised by Christopher Hall. Hatfield House CPM1/69. Reproduced by 
courtesy of the Marquess of Salisbury. 





ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


123 


“Publick Commoditie” as early as 1570 in the last paragraph of his famous preface 
to Billingsley’s Elements of Geometrie, where he wrote: 

Besides this, how many a Common Artificer, is there, in these Realmes of England and 
Ireland, that dealeth with Numbers, Rule and Cumpasse: Who, with their owne Skill 
and experience, already had, will [...] finde out, and deuise, new workes, straunge 
Engines and Instrumentes for sundry purposes in the Common Wealth? or for priuate 
pleasure? and for the better maintayning of their owne estate? [...] For, no man (I am 
sure) will open his mouth against this Enterprise [... nor any] that hath any care & zeale 
for the bettering of the Common state of this Realme. 107 


NOTES 

1 R&W, 4. 

2 British Library, Cotton MS Vitellus C.VII, fol. 9 r v is the part of the description of his library which 
describes his instruments. See too a transcript in R&W, 194-5 and the supplement prepared for the John 
Dee Conference in April 1995. See also R&W, 35 and John Roche, “The Radius Astronomicus in 
England”, Annals of Science, 38 (1981): 1-32. 

3 John Dee, Of Riche and Famous Discoveries, British Library, Cotton MS Vitellus C.VII, fol. 60 v . The 
cartouche of William Borough’s chart at Trinity College, Dublin, (MS 1209) says: 

Sith Tullie sayeth that each man ought his travaile to applie, 
to other men’s commoditys: This counsell follow I. 

For perfectlie in this my khart the coastes where I have passed 
I have set forthe: that others may thereby som knowledege fayn. 

Great profit maye it bring to them that by these coastes sayle, 
for it of instruments is chief that maye them most availe; 
which if it doo such favour fynde, as trayayle hath deserved, 
it shall procure me to expresse, that which I have safe read. 

W. Borough. 

4 Martin Cortes, Breve Compendio de la sphere y de la arte de nauegar con nueuos instrumentos y 
reglas. (Seville, 1551), trans. by Richard Eden, The Arte of Navigation, Conteyning a compendious 
description of the sphere (London, 1561) and nine subsequent editions between 1572 and 1630. Its 
origins lay in the official visit which in 1558 Philip II arranged for Stephen Borough to make to Seville, 
presumably to share his knowledge of the icy waters off the North Coast of Russia explored two years 
earlier. 

5 MP. Dee’s preface is entitled “A first fruit full Preface specifying the Chiefe Mathematicall Sciences”. 

6 John Dee, General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation (London, 1577), 
sig. Biii. See also Christopher Lewis Oastler, John Day, The Elizabethan Printer, Oxford Bibliographical 
Society Occasional Publication 10 (Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1975). 

7 British Library, Cotton MS Vitellus C.VII, fol. 79. While this ‘peripNs’ may refer to various Dutch 
ratters published from the 1540s onwards, there is far more detail about Norway’s coast in an English 
text that seems more closely related to both William Borough and Dee, namely British Library, Harley 
MS 167, fols. 39-72 which contains “Borough’s Rules” relating to a passage along Norway’s coast and 
past the North Cape. 

8 Pierpont Morgan Library, MS MA 2637 (R-V Autogrs. Misc, English). Dee’s letter of 16 January 1577, 
written from Mortlake, covered cartographic and navigational issues and the politics of the Netherlands. 
See Abrahami Ortelii, geographi antverpensis et virorum eruditorum ad eundem et ad Jacobum Collum 
Ortelianum, Abraham Ortelii Sororis filium, epistolae, ed. John Henry Hessels (Cambridge, 1887), 157- 
160 (158). Dee had realised that these two names on America’s northern shore (as shown on Ortelius’s 
1564 world map engraved in Antwerp) were omitted from his much smaller 1570 world map. By 
contrast with the rather numerous 1570 map, only three copies of the large 1564 world map on eight 
sheet are known, one in the Rotterdam Maritime Museum, one in the University Library, Basle, and the 
last in the British Library’s Map Room. See Rodney W. Shirley, The mapping of the world: early printed 



124 


R. BALDWIN 


maps, 1472-1700 (London: Holland Press, 1983), Entry 144, plate 97, 129-133; Helen Wallis, “Across 
the Narrow Seas” in Susan Roche, ed., Studies in the History and Bibliography of Britain and the Low 
Countries presented to Anna E. Simoni (London: British Library, 1991), 31-54. 

9 British Library, Cotton MS Vitellus C.VII, fols. 264-269. Of Great and Rich Discoveries, incorporates 
Mercator’s letter and Dee’s translation of 1577. See also: E.G.R. Taylor, “A letter dated 1577 from 
Mercator to John Dee”, Imago Mundi , 13 (1956): 56-68. Frobisher had already used both Ortelius’s 
world map, probably the larger 1564 edition (880 x 1500 mm), and Mercator’s even larger world map of 
1569, (1340 x 2120 mm), as the inventory of the items supplied for the 1576 voyage shows. See Public 
Record Office, Exchequer, King’s Remembrancer, E164/35, fol. 17. A full transcript of this can be found 
in James McDermott, “Humphrey Cole and the Frobisher Voyages” in Silke Ackermann, ed., Humphrey 
Cole: Mint, Measurement and Maps in Elizabethan England (London: British Museum Publications, 
1998), 15-16. The fact Ortelius’s map was supplied at no cost in Lok’s account suggests Dee had lent it 
to his erstwhile pupils in 1576, but had it back in time to discuss it in detail with Abraham Ortelius in 
March 1577. Ortelius’s world map “Typis Orbis Terrarum” drawn about 1569 and published in Antwerp 
in 1570 (335 x 495 mm) was not detailed enough to have sustained such usage, or to have been much 
help to Frobisher and Hall in 1576. For further recent discussion, see James McDermott, “The 
Navigation of the Frobisher Voyages”, Hakluyt Society’s Annual Talk, 1997, published in 1998, 3-24. 
McDermott and Waters express their doubts that the brass globes and the brass “Sphaera Nautica” 
ordered were ever taken to sea. They do not consider the sturdy nature of the large surviving examples of 
Cole’s work at St Andrews University, nor the possible utility and durability of Cole’s preparing a 
suitably cased brass engraved version of the very large Italian globe published in 1574. This made up a 
globe of 71 centimetres in diameter. That Italian globe carried lots of data on the vicinity of Greenland, 
Labrador and the western end of a NW passage, probably largely derived from Basque whalers through 
their Italian bankers. Its gores carried the best commercially available data on the region, a fact Dee was 
well connected enough to know. Perhaps made by the Sanuto brothers, its gores were intended for a 
market among affluent seamen. In 1578 Cornelius Ketel painted a portrait of Frobisher alongside a globe, 
probably a new one made up from gores supplied by Sanuto or Cartaro but undoubtedly simplified and 
scaled down by the painter to show only the regions of concern to Frobisher. That portrait survives in the 
Bodleian Library. See too Raleigh Ashton Skelton, A Venetian Terrestrial Globe, represented by the 
largest surviving printed gores of the 16th century (Bologna: Garisenda Antiquariato Libri e Stampe, 
1969). 

10 Robert Recorde, The Castle of Knowledge (London, 1556), preface. The rare second edition (B.L 
C.31.622) and another of Recorde’s textbooks, the The Grounde of Arts (London, 1540), were 
extensively edited by Dee (referred to as “I.D.”) and appeared in 1561 under the title The Ground of 
Artes teachyng the worke and practise of Arithmetike and now of late overseen and augmented with newe 
and necessarie additions by I.D. (British Library, C. 1.1022). Recorde was until his death Surveyor of the 
Mines to Queen Mary, and shared with John Dee interest in antiquarian matters, in Wales, and in mining, 
as well as in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century mathematical texts such as that on the navicula that might 
have been of use to astronomers and navigators. In 1557 while Recorde was working up theorems for his 
unfinished “Treasure of Knowledge”, Dee also formulated his ideas for the manuscripts, De Nova 
Navigationis Ratione, and Euclidis elementorum, libri XV. See Robert William Theodore Gunther, Early 
Science in Oxford, 15 vols (Oxford, 1923), I, 107. 

11 Public Record Office, E 164/35, fol. 17. It is possible that Lok’s account here refers to a manuscript set 
of sailing directions for India that bears two of Thevet’s signatures, one dated 1563, another 1567. This 
suggests it might have been lent by Thevet to someone like Dee to transcribe. Dee certainly credits 
Thevet as a source in his text Of Rich and Famous Discoveries , (British Library, Cotton MS Vitellus C 
VII fol. 125) completed in 1577. Dee’s Library contained three works by Thevet (R&W, Nos. 238, 346 
and 1096). Two of those works, both heavily annotated in respect of Cathay, survive in The Royal 
College of Physicians’ Library, London. The third work has not been identified but might be Thevet’s 
own copy of a rutter by Emmanuel Alvares, Roteiro de Navegacam Da qui pera ay india. This was 
certainly widely transcribed in the mid-sixteenth century, see Bibliotheque Nationale (Fonds Portugais 
ancien, No 48). A possible master copy in 92 folios, autographed back and front by Thevet, is in the 
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, (MS 35-013c/P31). Prior to 1935 it was in Professor Charles 
Boxer’s library and is described in Charles Ralph Boxer, Mariners Mirror, 20 (1934): 176-77. 

12 British Library, Cotton MS Vitellus C.VII. fols. 1-13. 

13 MP, sig. a.iiij r ' v . 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


125 


14 Ibid. 

15 Bodleian Library, Ashmole 242, no. 83. “Canon Gubernauticus” or “A great volume, in which are 
contained our [sic] Queen Elizabeth her Arithmeticall Tables Gubematick: for Navigation by Paradoxall 
Compass (by me invented anno 1557) and Navigation by Great Circles, and for longitudes and latitudes, 
and the variation of the Compass, finding most easily and speedily etc.”; E.G.R. Taylor, A Regiment for 
the Sea, Hakluyt Society Second Series, 121 (Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1963), 415-33; Thomas 
Rundall, ed., Narratives of Voyages towards the North West in search of a North West Passage to Cathay 
and India, 1496-1631, Hakluyt Society First Series, 5 (London, 1849). For more detail on the problems 
of the Borough’s voyage see Richard Eden’s preface to his Arte of Navigation, 1561. 

16 British Library, Harley MS 473. Certaine verie rare observations of Chester and some parts of Wales. 

17 British Library, Cotton MS Augustus I.I.i. verso. 

18 British Library, Harley MS 167, fols. 182-200. The Account of the Third Voyage to Meta Incognita 
made by Christopher Hall. The first page of the report shows that it had belonged in John Dee’s Library, 
and bears a few notes in Dee’s hand on Sir Francis Drake and young William Hawkins. Fol. 187 bears a 
coloured coastal view of the rugged snowy form of “Dee’s Pinnacles”. 

19 British Library, Cotton MS Otho EVIII, (Article 16) fols. 78-9. One of the circumpolar charts that Dee 
drew for Pet and Jackman survives in the library at Burghley House, Stamford within a volume of 
Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, annotated in Lord Burghley’s hand. Lok’s later engraved chart of 
1582 owes much to Dee’s circumpolar charts, and the Burghley House exemplar in particular. 

20 The title page of this collation of charts from Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Antwerp, 1570), 
bears the manuscript inscription “This book belonged to the L’d Treasurer Burghley” probably written in 
the hand of his eldest son, Thomas, 1st Earl of Exeter (1542-1622). After the prefatory world chart (the 
1570 version) there was bound in Dee’s northern hemisphere and below it an inscription in Lord 
Burghley’s hand about Frobisher’s second voyage reading thus: “ Ann o domini 1577 et 19 Eliz. Reginae. 
Furbisher capitaneus navis appelate ye Ayde, cum 2no aliis navibus discessit en ostio Thamisis 25 Maii 
et adiit quasdem Insulas in Mare Aglonari in Latitudini 64 et Longitud[ini] [blank] atque 19 July, et 
ibique mora traxit per diversque ad 24th Augii et terversus est in portuum Plymouth 20th Septembrii.” 

21 A similar Chinese map reached Philip II’s Library in the mid-1570s in a diplomatic bundle from the 
Philippines. See R.C.D. Baldwin, “The Interchange of European and Asian Navigational Information in 
the Far East before 1620”, in Derek Howse ed., Five Hundred Years of Nautical Science, 1400-1900 
(London: National Maritime Museum, 1981), 80-90. 

22 British Library, Cotton MS Otho EVIII, (Article 16) fol. 77. British Library, Lansdowne MS 122 
Article 5. 

23 Harley MS 167, art 41, fol. 181. 

24 Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ashmolean MS 242. No. 83. This is also alluded to on the verso of his map, 
British Library, Cotton MS Augustus I i.i. 

25 Public Record Office, SP15/25/81. Lok’s Instructions for the Third Voyage as amended in Lord 
Burghley’s hand (draft circa March 1578). See also: British Library, Lansdowne MS 100/1 fols. 10-12; 
British Library, Harley MS 167, fols. 165-180 and 182-200; Magdalene College Cambridge, Pepys MS 
2133; Walter Andrew Kenyon, “The Canadian Arctic Journal of Captain Edward Fenton, 1578”, 
Archivaria, 11 (1980): 171-203. 

26 MH. 

27 R&W, 35. 

28 Antoine de Smet, “John Dee et sa place dans l’histoire de cartographic” in Helen Wallis and Sarah 
Tyacke, eds., My Head is a Map: Essays and memoirs in honour of R.V. Tooley (London: Francis 
Edwards, 1973), 107-113. 

29 Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 242. No. 83. 

30 Edward Cannan, Churches of the South Atlantic Islands, 1502-1991 (London: Anthony Nelson, 1992), 
25 and 259n which details various searches for Dee’s visit to St Helena, concluding that Coote probably 
mistook Madox’s hand and descriptions of Fenton’s voyage of 1582-83 for Dee’s. See too DNB, XIV, 
271-279. 

31 E.G.R. Taylor, Tudor Geography, 1483-1583 (London: Methuen, 1930), 88-96, 263-265. On page 265 
Taylor cites a short part of Dee’s library catalogue, cited in evidence for compensation in 1592. This 
explains the practical value of instruments he had kept in his library (and whose utility must have been 
known by John Davis) saying, “The instruments necessary for a skillful seaman are the Sea Compasse, a 
Cross staff, a Quadrant, an Astrolabe, a Chart, an instrument magneticall for finding of the Variacion of 
the compass, an horizontal! plane sphere, a globe and a paradoxall compass [...] but the Sea Compass and 



126 


R. BALDWIN 


Cross staff are instruments sufficient for a seaman’s use: the astrolabe and the Quadrant being 
instruments very uncertain for sea observations.” 

32 British Library, Cotton MS Roll XVIII, 48. 

33 British Library, Cotton MS Augustus l.i.i. 

34 Free Library of Philadelphia (William Elkins Collection, 42). “Sir Humphrey Gylbert knight his chart” 
also bears Dee’s own cabalistic symbols identifying him as its author. It was long kept by the Percy and 
Leconfield families, whose late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century papers were full of naval, mining 
and mathematical interest. See Catalogue of Exceedingly Rare and Valuable Americana, with some 
important English Books and Manuscripts, largely from the Library of Henry Percy, 9 th Earl of 
Northumberland (1564-1632) at Petworth House. Sold by order of his Descendant, The Right Honoble. 
Lord Leconfield. Which will be sold by Auction by Messrs Sotheby and Co. [...] On Monday the 23 rd day 
of April, 1928, and the following Day (London: J. Davy and Sons, for Sotheby & Co, 1928), lot 78. 

35 David Beers Quinn, ed., The Voyages and Colonising Enterprises of Sir Humphrey Gilbert , Hakluyt 
Society Second Series, 2 vols (London: Hakluyt Society, 1940), 83-84, illustrates Dee’s opportunism 
over this. 

36 Michael Lok’s chart was sought for Richard Hakluyt’s Divers Voyages touching the discoverie of 
America (London, 1582), where it was published opposite (sig. B4, second count). It is entitled 
“ILLUSTRI VIRO DOMINO PHILIPPO SIDNAEO MICHAEL LOK CIVIS LONDINENSIS HANC 
CHARTAM DEDICAB AT, 1582.” 

37 Donald D. Hogarth, Peter W. Boreham, and John G. Mitchell, Mines, Minerals and Metallurgy: Martin 
Frobisher’s voyages of 1576, 1577 and 1578, Mercury Series, 7 (Ottawa: Canadian Museum of 
Civilisation, 1994), 73-99. 

38 Dee had two copies of Biringuccio’s text and multiple copies of Agricola’s study, De Re Metallica 
(Freiburg, 1556) and (Basle, 1558), and copies of major works by Ercker, Munster, Oviedo and de 
Barros. All were heavily annotated, in those sections dealing with mines in the Iberian empires. Roberts 
and Watson show that the metallurgical texts and mining regulations that Dee took to Prague in 1583 as 
those marked with a T in the catalogue. Dee also took important geographical texts like Munster’s 
Cosmographia which had an extensive section on mining and smelting in central Europe. Dee’s 
collection of mining texts and mining laws included the bylaws of Kuttenburg (i.e Kutna Hora) in 
Bohemia, and other mining towns in Alsace and Saxony. See R&W nos. 5, 178, 215, 222, 227, 459, 677, 
1437, 1453, 1534-5, 1540, 1542-44, 2214. A fuller discussion of those legal texts on mining appears in 
Herbert Clark and Lou Henry Hoover, Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica. Translated from the first 
Latin edition of 1556 with biographical introduction, annotations and appendices upon the development 
of mining methods, metallurgical processes, geology, mineralogy and mining laws from the earliest times 
to the sixteenth century (London, 1912; repr. New York: Dover Publications, 1950), 609-614. 

39 Public Record Office, SP 12/144/17 parts 1 and 2 details Drake’s profits and the treasure to be 
removed to the Tower of London, then estimated at over £250,000. It notes that over £10,000 was 
retained by Drake. 

40 David Beers Quinn, Set Fair for Roanoake, Voyages and Colonies (Chapel Hill: University of North 
Carolina Press, 1985), 92. See too: Hatfield House, Cecil MS 276/5: “first written in the high duch by the 
experte and chiefe M[aste]r of the Emperors mynes in the kingdom of Bohemia, Lazarus Erkeme, nowe 
translated into English by Joachim Gaunz of Prage.” See also Gary C. Grassl, “German Mineral 
Specialists in Elizabethan England and Early Modem America”, Yearbook of German-American Studies , 
31 (1996): 25-28, 49-52. 

41 British Library, Harley MS 249, fols. 95-105. At the beginning it is dedicated “To my very Honourable 
Friend Syr Edward Dyer, Knight”, and at the end it notes he now sent “this Treatise with a peculiar letter 
besides Johannem Crocker on Friday 15th last of September 1597.” British Library, Royal MS 7, C. XVI 
fols. 158-165 is another nearly contemporary copy of the same text, dated 8 September 1597. Yet another 
copy appears in his hand in a copy of his General and Rare Memorials, British Library, C21.e.l2 as fols. 
3-13. It was later given to Captain Hitchcock by Dee. 

42 Public Record Office, SP12/30/30 dated 17 June 1587. Richard Deacon, John Dee: Scientist, 
geographer, astrologer and secret agent to Elizabeth I (London: Frederick Muller, 1968). See also the 
Garland and Simkinson request that Dee attend the Court of the Russian Emperor, and Public Record 
Office, SP12/196/143 r (dated 18 September 1586) later reproduced by Richard Hakluyt, The Principal 
Navigations, voyages, traffiques and discoveries of the English Nation (London, 1598), I, 508. 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


127 


43 Public Record Office, SP12/31/35. 

44 British Library, Lansdowne MS 30/4, fols. 10-12; Acts of the Privy Council of England, ed. John 
Roche Dasent, 46 vols (London: HMSO, 1890-1964), X, 147 for January 1577/78. 

45 Vilhjalmur Stefansson, The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher in search of a Passage to Cathay and 
India by the North-west, A.D. 1576-8: from the original 1578 text of George Best , 2 vols (London: 
Argonaut Press, 1938), II, 113, 117, 119, 132, 198, 202, 205, 217. 

46 William Robert Scott, The Constitution and Finance of English, Scottish and Irish Joint-Stock 
Companies to 1720 ,3 vols (Cambridge, 1911, repr. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1993), I, 39-44. 

47 Private Diary, 18-19. This is a conflation of selected entries from Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 487 
and 488. See also, Albert Hastings Markham, ed., The Voyages and Works of John Davis the Navigator, 
Hakluyt Society First Series, 59 (London, 1880), Introduction. 

48 Calendar of State Papers: Foreign Series, of the reign of Edward VI, 1547-1553, ed. William Barclay 
Turnbull, (London, 1861), No. 245: Joachim Gundelfinger to the Privy Council, 18 October 1550. 

49 Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland, of the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and 
Elizabeth 1509-1573, ed. H.C. Hamilton, 5 vols (London, 1860-1890), I, 114, 121-127. 

50 Maxwell Bruce Donald, Elizabethan Copper: The History of The Company of Mines Royal, 1568-1605 
(London: Pergamon Press, 1955, repr. Whitehaven: Michael Moon, 1989), 124-145. 

51 Cumbria Record Office, (Kendal) Rydal MS 28, fols. 146-169 (sometimes described as Rydal MS R). 
Other passages on crushing and weighing houses and even furnaces among the Rydal manuscripts lack 
the operational detail. The international infrastructure of technical and financial resources required can be 
seen through: William G. Collingwood, Elizabethan Keswick: Extracts from the original account books 
1564-1577 of the German Miners in the archives of Augsburg, Cumberland and Westmoreland 
Antiquarian Society, Tract Series, 7 (Kendal, 1912, repr. Whitehaven: R. Moon, 1987). See Ian McNeil, 
“Blast: From Blowpipe to Blowing Engine”, Newcomen Society Transactions, 60 (1989): 95-106. Rhys 
Jenkins, “The Society for the Mines Royall and the German Colony in the Lake District”, Newcomen 
Society Transactions (1938): 225-234. Alnwick Castle, MS Y.I, no 6 comprises the Hechstetter’s 
operational data as sent to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, “to informe myselfe of the ystate of 
the mynes and finding no great alteracion [...]”, 23 January 1617/18. Parts of the text are drawn from 
sixteenth-century recipes, but most of this text is devoted largely to arguments for a reduction in the rent 
for the Cumberland mines then operating to a loss. It allows for insight into the traditional German 
methods of min ing and smelting then in use. The technology as Dee knew it from Alsace is best shown in 
H. Groffs illustrated manuscript, in L’Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts, Paris, published with notes by 
E. Brugerolles, La Mine et mode de Vemploi, 1526 (Evreux: Editions Gallimard, 1992). 

52 Hoover and Hoover, De Re Metallica, 609-614. 

53 See R&W, nos. Ill, 178, 215, 1051, 1919, all Agricola’s works, plus the Duke of Saxony’s mining 
ordnances, the Bergordnung of 1574 (R&W, no. 227). Zimmerman’s important study, Probirbuch, not 
the title cited by Dee above (R&W, no. 1535), may have come to Mortlake a little later, but certainly well 
before 1583, along with Ciriacus Schreitlmann’s Probierbuchlin Frembde und subtile Kiinst [...] von 
Woge und Gewicht auch von allerhandt Probenauft Ertz, Gold, Silber etc (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1578), 
R&W, no. 1534. The last two probably came as a result of intelligence and help obtained for him by Sir 
Philip Sidney. Dee records its origin in a meeting involving Lord Leicester, Edward Dyer and Philip 
Sidney on 16 January 1577. As Roberts and Watson show by reference to Pears’s transcripts of Sidney’s 
correspondence with Hubert Languet, Sidney exchanged data derived through Dee about Martin Fro¬ 
bisher’s supposed discovery of gold in 1576 and 1577, seeking in return fulfilment of a promise to 
dispatch the laws of Gutebergica, i.e. the Kutna Hora mines in Bohemia. See Stewart Adolphus Pears, 
The correspondence of Sir Philip Sidney and Hubert Languet (London, 1845), 128, referring to corres¬ 
pondence from Languet dated 28 November 1577 and Sidney’s fuller letter of 1 October 1577. 

54 Public Record Office, SP12/95, nos. 63 and 64, a further copy SP12/229/97, fols. 1-5, and a draft 
patent at SP 12/235/1. The former was a petition and letter to the Queen for “A discovery of lands 
beyond the Equinoctial [...] and to establish the authors and fellowship of this voyage in the nature of a 
corporation”. Lok probably took it as a model for the proposals he worked on with Dee and Frobisher but 
he too failed to secure incorporation, demanding, as Burghley thought, too much in the form of the 
charter that he proposed. See too Alison Grant, Grenville (Appledore: North Devon Museum Trust, 
1991), 14-18. A derivative of Grenville’s scheme but expressed in considerable detail was later penned 
by Richard Hakluyt as “A discourse of the Commodity of taking the Straight of Magellanus”. It was 
probably prepared for Sir Francis Walsingham in 1580. 



128 


R. BALDWIN 


55 British Library, Lansdowne MS 19, (art. 19). 

56 British Library, Lansdowne MS 100, (art. 1) fol. 4. 

57 One copy of this work which was to remain in his library for over twenty years (British Library, 
C.21.el2) bears the text of the Thalattokratia Bretanniki on blank leaves at the back in Dee’s hand. That 
copy was sent on to Sir Edward Dyer on 15 September 1597. See note 41 above for more details. 

58 For a tiny image of the Cadoxton smelter beside the river near Neath see West Glamorgan Record 
Office, Dynevor Memorial, “The description of the Lordship of Cadoxton juxta Neath now parte of ye 
possessions of ye Right honourable John Herbert Esquier one of her majestic’s Pryvie Counsell and 
Secreatary of Estate unto her highness.” c.1601. “clericus fecit et descripsit.” 

59 Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 488. Dee’s diary recorded on 19 December 1589 that Gilbert 
“Offred me as much as I could require at his hands, both for my goods carryed away, and for the mynes.” 
See R&W, 35. 

60 Peter Claughton and Neil Parkhouse, Out of the World and into Coombe Martin (Coombe Martin: 
Coombe Martin Local History Group, 1989), 33-37. N. Parkhouse, “Coombe Martin - An Industrial 
slum?”, The Quarterly Journal for British Industrial and Transport History, 1 (1995): 5, 10-11. 

61 S.H. Burton, Walks in North Devon: A Guide to its Scenery, Architecture, History and Antiquities 
(London: T. Werner Laurie, 1953), 69-70 gives the full texts of the two inscriptions as originally 
determined in John Prince, Danmomii Orientales Illustres, or The Worthies of Devon (London, 1810). 

62 Stephen Atkinson, The Discovery and Historie of the Gold Mynes of Scotland, 1619 (Edinburgh, 
1825), 52-53; Scott, III, 409. 

63 Archivo General Simancas, Ingalterra, leg. 818/72. Sebastian Cabot to Charles V, a transcript clearly 
misdated 15 November 1554. Presumably the original dated from 1553 or even a year earlier still. As 
taken forward later to Philip II it also contained a map now lost. It may well have formed part of Cabot’s 
reply to a letter written by Emperor Charles V to the young Queen Mary on 9 September 1553, following 
the failure of the Duke of Northumberland’s plot to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne. The Duke, who 
was a keen supporter of Dee’s ideas, was executed for treason in August 1553. 

64 Edward Arber, ed., The First Three English Books on America 1511-1555 A.D.: Being chiefly 
translation, compilations &c. by Richard Eden (Birmingham, 1885), 355. This large work incorporates 
many of Eden’s earliest translations. 

65 Public Record Office, E231/28d and SP 12/40/81-83. 

66 British Library, Sloane MS 2483. Donald, pp 66-72. 

67 British Library, Lansdowne MS 30, Art.4. fol. 12. 

68 Public Record Office, SP 112/119/14; SP 12/126/56; SP 12/130/19, 21 and 35; SP 12/130/21. 

69 British Library, Lansdowne MS 30, Art 4, fol. 6, and Lansdowne MS 100/1 fols. 4 r -5 v , lOr, and 12r. 
Public Record Office, SP 12/118/56; SP 12/119/46; SP 12/122/3, 4, 9, 10, 61 and 62; SP 12/129/43; SP 
12/130/15. Assays by Agnello, Broad, Kranich and Williams are also known: They are to be found in 
Public Record Office, SP 12/122/62 and 67 and SP 12/161/41. The last two by Williams took place on 28 
July 1583. These two failures served to confirm Dee’s decision to leave for Prague. See also Lok’s 
accounts as preserved in San Marino, California, Huntington Library, MS 715. 

70 Public Record Office, SP 12/130/15 and British Library, Lansdowne MS 100/1, fols. 10 r -13 r . 

71 British Library, Cotton MS Vitellus C.VII fols. 329-45. Sometime after 1566, when the originals were 
shown to Anthony Jenkinson, Cyprian Lucar, son of Robert Thome’s Bristolian associate and executor, 
Emannual Lucar, who in turn presented a copy to John Dee. Later copies were made available to other 
people, including Michael Lok, (now British Library, Lansdowne MS 100 fols. 65-80), William Cecil 
(now Hatfield House, Cecil MS 245/5), and Richard Hakluyt, who published it in as ‘A declaration of the 
Indies’ in Divers Voyages, sig. Bl-B3 r . 

72 Hakluyt, Divers Voyages, Epistle Dedicatorie. 

73 British Library, Cotton MS Otho E VII, fol. 44 v . 

74 British Library, Lansdowne MS 100, Art.l, fol. 4. 

75 British Library, Cotton MS Otho E VII, fol. 44 v . 

76 British Library, Cotton MS Otho E VII, fol. 44 v 

77 Dee, General and Rare Memorials, sig. A2 r . 

78 Public Record Office, El64/35 fol. 17. 

79 Dee’s loans of equipment and his advice may have been so significant in themselves and for the 
prestige that they conferred, that Lok himself was prepared to acquiesce to Dee’s not paying up his 
adventurer’s shares. 



ENGLISH NAVAL AFFAIRS 


129 


80 Stefansson, Voyages of Martin Frobisher, II, 77. This gives its sources as the Royal Commission on 
Historical Manuscripts, 1832 and 1833, pp.74-77, 558-62 and copied directly without reference to the 
originals in Richard Collinson, ed., The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher in Search of a Passage to 
Cathaia and India by the North West, A.D. 1576-1578, Hakluyt Society, First Series, 38 (London, 1867). 
A correct copy appears in J.M. McDermott, “The Account Books of Michael Lok relating to the North 
West Voyages of Martin Frobisher, 1576-1578” (Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Hull, 1984), 83- 
84, and as an appendix in the Hakluyt Society publication cited above. The uncorrected form appears in 
David Watkin Waters, The Art of Navigation in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times (London: Hollis and 
Carter, 1958), 530-532. 

81 See R&W, Introduction. 

82 The Art of Navigation, trans. by Richard Eden (London: R. Jugge, 1561), fols. lxviii-lxx, Part 3, Ch.7 
entitled “The making and use of the Astrolabe with which the mariners take the Altitude of the Sunne.” 

83 Alwynne A. Ruddock, “The Trinity House at Deptford in the Sixteenth Century”, English Historical 
Review, 65 (1950): 458-476. Charles Raymond Booth Barrett, The Trinity House of Deptford Strond: 
written and illustrated by C.R.B. Barrett (London, 1893), 131-134. 

84 R&W, Appendix 3, 196-197. 

85 British Library, Harley MS 167, fols. 39- 76. Mr Borrough’s rule is on fol. 69. 

86 British Library, Cotton MS Titus BVIII, fol. 199 v . Elizabeth Story Donno, An Elizabethan in 1582, The 
Diary of Richard Madox, Fellow of All Souls, Hakluyt Society Second Series, 147 (London: Hakluyt 
Society, 1976), 227. Her edition of the text explains that Madox is using Pallinurus as a pseudonym to 
disguise Hall’s identity here as he did on at least six other occasions on the voyage. Madox did this in 
order to protect him from further humiliation by Fenton, and from identifying his alcoholism. 

87 George Best, A True Discourse of the late voyages of discoverie for finding of a passage to Cathay by 
the North Weast under the conduct of Martin Frobisher (London, 1578). Reprinted in Stefansson, 
Voyages of Martin Frobisher, I, 16. 

88 Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 242, no 83. See note 15 above for title. 

89 Dee, General and Rare Memorials, sig. A2 r . E.G.R.Taylor, “John Dee and the Nautical Triangle”, 
Journal of Navigation, 8 (1955): 318-325. 

90 British Library, Cotton MS Augustus I.i.i. verso. 

91 Public Record Office, SP 12/11/27; SP 12/96/267; SP 12/107/68. David Michael Loades, The Tudor 
Navy: an Administrative, Political and Military History (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1992), 191-193. 

92 Dee, General and Rare Memorials, sigs. A4 r ' v , B2 r ' v , D3 V , E2 r and E3 V . 

93 Thomas Elyot, The boke named the Governour (T. Berthelet, London, 1531; repr. London: Dent, 
1962), 23-24. 

94 William H. Sherman, John Dee, The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance 
(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), 171-189. Sherman dates a text widely presumed 
lost, British Library, Add MS 59681 Britannici Imperii limites to between 1576 and 1578 when final 
corrections were added. It anticipates in many ways Dee’s Thalattokratia Bretanniki completed in 1597. 
See General and Rare Memorials, now British Library, C.21.el2. See also British Library, Royal MS 7, 
C. XVI, fols. 158-165 and Harley MS 249. 

95 Julian Roberts, “John Dee’s Corrections to his Art of Navigation”, The Book Collector, 24 (1975): 70- 
75. Dee’s 1583 catalogue (now at Trinity College Cambridge) is annotated “I left 60 of these ready 
corrected”. See R&W, 104 (entry for R&W, no. 1680). 

96 Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, X, 366. 

97 These texts are all in British Library, Harley MS 167, fols. 165-200. Dee’s transcript of Sellman’s text 
(fols. 165-180) differs markedly in its description of the courses sailed in June 1578 from the printed but 
incomplete version first produced in 1867 by Collinson in The Three Voyages, 290-316. Its errors of 
transcription were copied but with revealing gaps by Stefansson, Voyages of Martin Frobisher, I, 55-73. 

98 B. Allaire and D. Hogarth, “Martin Frobisher, The Spaniards and a Sixteenth century Northern Spy”, 
Terrae Incognitae, 28 (1996): 46-58. M.A.S. Hume, Calendar of Letters and State Papers relating to 
English Affairs preserved principally in the Archives of Simancas, 4 vols (London, 1892-1899), II, 567- 
69. 

99 Best, A True Discourse, in Stefansson, Voyages of Martin Frobisher, I, 22. 

100 In Dee’s copy of Richard Hakluyt’s translation of El viage que hizo A[ntonio] de E[speio] en el anno 
de ochentay tres: el qual con sus companeros descubrieron una tierra [...] a quienpusieronpor nombre 
nuevo Mexico etc. (Madrid and Paris, 1586), now British Library, B32.a.32, we find the following 



130 


R. BALDWIN 


inscription in Dee’s hand: ‘Johannes Dee: A[nn]o 1590. January 24. Ex dono Thomae Hariot, Mei 
Amici.’ It is thus very soon after his return to his home at Mortlake. 

101 State Papers describing Sir Thomas Gresham’s investments are: Public Record Office, SP 12/111/48; 
SP 12/119/30 and 41; SP 12/126/2, 8, 32 and 56; SP 12/127/8 and 16; SP 12/130/16, 21, and 35. More 
detail about Sir Thomas Gresham’s foundation in its earliest phases is to be found in John Ward, The 
Lives of the Professors of Gresham College (London, 1740), iv-viii; Sydney John Teague, Sir Thomas 
Gresham financier and college founder (London: Synjon Books, 1974); Peter Winckworth, History of the 
Gresham Lectures, Inaugural lecture, City University (London: City University, 1966); Francis R. 
Johnson, “Gresham College: Precursor of the Royal Society”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 1 (1940): 
413-438; Public Record Office, SP 12/170/1. 

102 Now Hatfield House Library, CPM 1/69 reproduced here by courtesy the Marquess of Salisbury. 

103 For a full discussion of the significance of other contemporary work on terrestrial magnetism, by 
Borough, Gilbert and Norman in England, and of the longitude prizes offered formally from 1598 by 
Philip III of Spain, see Richard C.D. Baldwin, The international interchange of navigational information 
between the maritime communities of Iberia, Asia and North Western Europe, 1500-1620 (Unpublished 
thesis, University of Durham, 1980), 155-254. 

104 Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, I, Prefatory address. Gresham’s large incomes arising 
from clever currency speculation, trading in Ordnance and servicing the wool trade’s needs meant his 
large trading debts extended far beyond the Cathay venture and caused the House of Commons to take a 
close interest in the matter of his estate. That led to Parliament passing a special statute, which began as 
“A Bill for the relief of Sir Thomas Gresham’s creditors” that secured its first and second readings on 15 
and 20 February 1580. It passed quickly through Committee stage between 28 February and 4 March 
1580, to a third reading on 13 March 1580. In its final form it was passed as a Private Act ‘for the 
establishment of an agreement between Sir Henry Nevill, Knight, and Dame Anne Gresham for the better 
purposes of the last will and testamant of Sir Thomas Gresham deceased and paying his debts.’ Its main 
effect was to put off endowment of the lectureships until after Anne Gresham’s death by which time it 
was hoped all Sir Thomas’s trading positions would have unwound. 

105 Ward, vii. 

106 Dee, General and Rare Memorials, sig. B2 r . 

107 MP, sig. A.iiifL 



WILLIAM H. SHERMAN 


JOHN DEE’S COLUMBIAN ENCOUNTER* 


On at least one occasion between 1571 and 1583 John Dee encountered Christopher 
Columbus. The medium was Columbus’s son Ferdinand, and they met in the 
margins of Ferdinand’s famous History [...] of the Life & Deeds of the Admiral 
Christopher Columbus - one of the earliest and most important accounts of 
Columbus’s encounter with the New World. 1 Dee purchased the work sometime 
after its publication in 1571, and he read and annotated it carefully. 2 In 1583 the 
book was entered in his library catalogue, with a slightly garbled title. 3 It ultimately 
made its way into the British Library, where I stumbled upon it in the summer of 
1994. 4 

My discovery, like that of Columbus himself, was accidental. Columbus had set 
out from Spain expecting that his westward course would take him clear across to 
the eastern coast of Asia: when he made his landfall in the Bahamas his sources led 
him to suppose that he was somewhere near Japan. When I called up the Life of 
Columbus I was not searching for the tracks of John Dee: following up a passing 
comment made by David Quinn, I had been led to expect some interesting 
marginalia by Gabriel Harvey, the other great Elizabethan annotator to whom I had 
turned my attention. I recognized almost immediately that the notes were 
unmistakably Dee’s 5 - a realization that filled me with as much apprehension as 
excitement, since my book on Dee (with its detailed assessment of Dee’s 
contribution to English maritime expansion) was already making its way through the 
press. 

In that study I tried to assemble all of the available primary and secondary 
sources pertaining to Dee’s place in maritime history and the history of geography. 6 
Following Eva Taylor, David Waters, and others, I argued that he did more than 
anyone to import knowledge of the science of navigation and the history of empire 
to England, and - often behind the scenes - worked to apply this knowledge in the 
texts and voyages which would gradually allow England to catch up with its 
Continental rivals. 7 In a series of treatises, maps, and conferences from the 1550s to 
the 1590s, Dee developed an expansionist program, which he called “this British 
discovery and recovery enterprise.” 8 Calling for both the discovery of new lands and 
the recovery of regions that were once arguably subject to the British crown, Dee 


Different versions of this paper were delivered at ‘John Dee: an Interdisciplinary Colloquium,’ 
Birkbeck College, University of London; The Postgraduate Seminar, School of English and Drama, 
Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London; and the fourth annual conference for ‘New 
Researchers in Maritime History’, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (UK). I am grateful to all 
three audiences for their helpful comments, and to all three institutions for their financial support. 


131 


S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought , 131-140. 
© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



132 


W. H. SHERMAN 


eventually claimed for the queen a vast territory covering most of the water and 
much of the land in the northern hemisphere. 

Dee’s writings on navigation and empire cluster around 1576 to 1578 - the 
precise dates of Martin Frobisher’s three voyages to the Canadian Arctic, an enter¬ 
prise for which Dee was the primary scholarly advisor. The Frobisher connection is 
important, as we shall see, for Dee’s Columbian encounter. Over eighty years after 
Columbus’s voyages, Frobisher’s saw the first extensive contact between English 
explorers and North American natives and the first attempts at a permanent colony. 
Although they were unsuccessful on almost every level, they thus mark England’s 
belated entry into direct competition with Spain, and the beginning of its rise as an 
imperial power. Dee’s marginalia, I would suggest, were produced in the context of 
the Frobisher voyages and reflect a key moment in that transfer of power. 9 

In my book I also argued that the textual exploration of Dee was as important as 
the geographical exploration of figures like Frobisher in effecting this transfer. 
Fibraries played an especially important role in the launching and directing of 
voyages of exploration and colonization. This was certainly true of Dee and his 
massive collection; but it was equally true of Columbus. Recent work has revealed 
the extent to which his own readings both enabled and framed his New World 
encounter. The Biblioteca Colombina, as it is now known, has been largely dis¬ 
persed; but it still contains a number of books that belonged to Columbus and bear 
his marginal annotations. 10 And in relating these readings to the two men’s often 
enigmatic texts and actions, scholars have turned to similar sources and models: a 
recent description of Columbus as “a Hermetic character” who “was aware, it would 
appear, of his existence on the cusp of two temporal worlds - the Medieval and the 
Renaissance,” would not be at all out of place in a book on Dee. 11 Dee’s Columbian 
encounter, then, represents more than just a curious and hitherto unknown chapter in 
the reception of Columbus in early modem England. This meeting in the margins of 
the book that Washington Irving called “the cornerstone of the history of the 
American continent” 12 provides the occasion for some further thoughts on Dee’s 
reading practices (offering a sustained example of the kind that I was unable to 
deliver in my book), on English imperialism, and on the modes of cross-cultural 
contact in sixteenth-century Europe. 


II 

One of the most consistent features of Dee’s marginalia as a whole is their attention 
to the conditions of textual production and reception: he regularly notes any 
reference in the text to the author’s life as well as the authorship, ownership, or use 
of any other texts. 13 The very first marginalia in The Life of Columbus concern 
Ferdinand’s textual legacy. Next to the passage, “I, who had sailed with [Columbus] 
for some time, and had written of lesser things,” Dee jotted, “Note other bokes of 
this Author.” 14 But Dee was even more interested in Ferdinand’s ownership of books 
- not surprisingly, since Ferdinand was perhaps the most serious bibliophile of his 
day. I have already mentioned that Columbus founded a great library; but it was 
Ferdinand who turned it into what must have been an unrivalled institution. He 



DEE’S COLUMBIAN ENCOUNTER 


133 


quickly abandoned his career as a colonial administrator to devote himself to book¬ 
collecting and the advancement of learning; and by the 1520s the collection had 
evidently achieved almost universal coverage. 15 A dedicatory epistle in the Life 
praised the collection in the following terms: “Ferdinand [...] left to the cathedral of 
Seville [...] a library that was not only very large but rich, full of the rarest works in 
all the sciences and regarded by all who have seen it as one of the most remarkable 
things in all Europe.” 16 Dee tagged the passage with the simple word, “Bibliotheca”, 
but it must have had particular resonance for his own “Bibliotheca” in Mortlake. 

These notes, like the ones in which Dee provided information about when and 
where an author lived, and where other related books could be obtained, owe much 
to the uncertainties of textual transmission in his day - especially the difficulty of 
identifying and accessing books in an age before lending libraries or national 
libraries and in which cataloguing was still very primitive. In the maritime sphere 
the textual record was even more uncertain. First, Dee knew how important it was - 
when places and phenomena were being observed, potentially, for the first time - for 
explorers to keep detailed records. Reading that “the Admiral was very careful to 
keep a journal of all that happened on the voyage: wind directions and currents, the 
distance run by each ship, and all that they sighted on the way,” Dee wrote in the 
margin, “Note what things are to be noted in a voyage by Sea.” 17 On more than one 
occasion Dee was responsible for briefing English mariners on precisely this 
practice and, in fact, played a significant role in the development of ships’ logs. 18 
Dee was especially interested in Columbus’s techniques for ensuring that reports of 
his discoveries would make it back home even if he did not. In Chapter 37 
Ferdinand cites a dramatic passage from his father’s log when, on 14 February 1493, 
a storm scattered Columbus’s ships: 

Then, with my thoughts in this whirl, I thought upon Your Highnesses, and considered 
some means whereby, even were I dead and the ship lost, you might get news of the 
success of my voyage [...] Therefore I wrote on a parchment, as briefly as the state of 
things required, how I had discovered those lands as I had promised to do; the length of 
the voyage and the route thither; the goodness of the country and the customs of its 
inhabitants; and how I had left Your Highnesses’ vassals in possession of all I had 
discovered. This writing, folded and sealed, I addressed to your Highnesses with a 
written promise of 1,000 ducats to whoever should deliver it sealed to you [...] I 
straightaway had a great wooden barrel brought to me, and having wrapped the writing 
in a wax cloth and put it in a cake or loaf of wax, I dropped it into the barrel, which I 
made secure with hoops and cast into the sea; and all thought this was an act of 
devotion. 

Along the top of that page Dee wrote, “Note these Practices to saue his Letters and 
Aduertisements to the King of Castile.” 19 

Geographical and navigational notations were themselves subject to uncertainty, 
as previously canonical texts and previously current maps were being rendered 
obsolete by new experiences. 20 Not surprisingly, Dee’s marginalia display a constant 
concern with Columbus’s itinerary; with the distances he travelled and the means he 
used to measure them; and with the location of various points in the New World. For 
the Spaniards and their competitors, the most celebrated and contested location was, 
naturally, their first site of contact. Dee identified this spot in Ferdinand’s narrative 



134 


W. H. SHERMAN 


by noting, “The first place of the Spaniards inhabiting and the Rutter [or directions] 
how to arrive at it.” In several places, Dee commented on Columbus’s mistaken 
landfall: he drew special attention to the passage, “ [he] was mistaken in his belief 
that the first lands to which one would come would be Cathay and the empire of the 
Great Khan.” 21 Given his own goal of finding a way around the Americas to Cathay 
- which was, after all, the initial purpose of Frobisher’s voyages - Dee was 
extremely attentive to Ferdinand’s summary of classical and medieval sources on 
the subject (particularly those that had led to Columbus’s mistake). 

Columbus’s reckonings - and Ferdinand’s accounts - were full of incon¬ 
sistencies, and Dee was careful to note “A marvaylous error in Fatitude”, 22 a “great 
error in Mariners reckoning”, 23 and a “Diuersitie in Reconing”. 24 His own work on 
the science of navigation, especially in the polar regions, brought him up against the 
vexing problem of magnetic variation; and at several points he drew attention to “the 
variation of the Cumpas.” 25 

There was almost as much variation in Columbus’s place-names as in his 
reckoning; and in a string of notes Dee struggled to sort out the group of names 
apparently given to single islands, and the single names given to groups of islands. 
When Ferdinand names several “sub-polar islands” in Chapter 9 - such as Friseland, 
Greenland, and (most important for Dee’s claims on behalf of a British Empire) St. 
Brendan’s Isle - Dee’s pen was predictably active. 

Elsewhere I have discussed Dee’s reliance on, and propagation of, the myth that 
300 years before Columbus, the Welsh Prince Madoc sailed to America and left 
behind a tribe of Welsh Indians. 26 One of the main lines of proof for this surprisingly 
persistent myth was a perceived similarity between the Welsh language and certain 
Native American dialects. In Gwyn Williams’s fascinating account of this story, 
there is a chapter entitled, “Marginal Madoc” 27 - and Madoc makes several appear¬ 
ances in the margins of Dee’s Columbus. In the bottom margin of sig. M7 V , Dee 
speculated that the word “Zaunia” derived from “the Welsh pronunciation of Iohn,” 
and that “Huino” was “perhaps so named of some Owen which cam with Madoc ap 
Owen Gwynned.” When Ferdinand reported that the Indians recite the names of 
their ancestors, Dee found another Welsh parallel: “Note [...] custom of [...] 
rehersing the names of theyr parents [...] after the Welsh manner.” 

These linguistic fantasies notwithstanding, it should be clear that Dee’s concerns 
were remarkably pragmatic. There is very little attention, here, to prophecy or the 
supernatural - and, indeed, surprisingly little in the way of wonder, which Stephen 
Greenblatt has identified as the primary mode by which early modem Europeans 
apprehended the New World and its inhabitants. 28 In his related annotations in Andre 
Thevet’s Cosmographie Universelle , by contrast, Dee was more clearly interested in 
novelties and curiosities, noting the people of Madagascar who live to the age of 
160, “the first Invention of Fetters Hieroglyphic,” and the people of Zipangu [Japan] 
who “eat flyes.” 29 Dee’s Columbian marginalia focus above all on Columbus’s 
practical methods and “policies” - perhaps the most commonly used word in the 
notes (after,of course, “nota/note” itself). Some of these concern the voyages them- 



DEE’S COLUMBIAN ENCOUNTER 


135 


selves, as in Dee’s notes on the number of men on the ships or the reward for the 
first man who spotted land. Others concern the establishment of a colony on that 
land: he notes descriptions of forts and deliberations about leaving men behind. 
Most, however, are policies for successful interaction with, and exploitation of, the 
indigenous population. Dee identifies tricks for securing the faith of the people, 
extracting information from them, and - what would become the most familiar 
colonial scenario of all - exchanging worthless trinkets for valuable commodities. 

A sickening number of these practices that Dee labels “policies” entailed the 
forceful seizure of natives: on G6 r Dee noted that “7 interpreters [were] taken,” on 
H3 V that “12 indians [were] taken,” on H7 V that “a woman [was] gotten,” on H8 V that 
“An indian in a canoe [was] taken,” and so on. This, along with the detailed 
discussions of how to procure the natives’ permission to leave men behind, and how 
many men were needed to keep that colony safe, takes us close, once again, to 
Frobisher’s own voyages, in which a total of four Inuit natives were seized (one of 
whom while still in his kayak), and which - had not a ship gone down carrying 
building materials and provisions, would have led to the first English winter colony 
in the New World. 

Frobisher’s venture is also invoked by Dee’s careful attention to any mention of 
gold. Gold was the master commodity and at least the indirect object of all European 
exploration, so it is not surprising to find Dee noting “a shew of gold” 30 and, later, a 
“great quantity of gold”. 31 But, more specifically, Dee attended to the fact that gold 
was accidentally discovered on Columbus’s first voyage and that in subsequent 
voyages hired labourers from Spain were taken to mine the ore - a sequence of 
events which would be precisely replayed in Frobisher’s voyages, whose first 
voyage created an unprecedented gold rush and whose second and third voyages 
were equipped primarily as mining ventures. 

Not all of Dee’s notes were quite so ruthless about the domination of the New 
World. Annotations in the Life of Columbus and related volumes reveal Dee’s 
fascination with natural phenomena: at one place he noted, “Flying fish” in the 
margin, 32 and along the edge of another page he jotted, “Melons in two monthes 
grown; Cucumbers in 20 dayes; Wheat in a month.” 33 He was also capable of a more 
sympathetic attitude toward the native population: he noted several descriptions of 
the people (especially those of Cuba, as opposed to the hostile “Caribi”) which 
described them as gentle, tractable, and apt to learn languages; and compared their 
social and religious institutions favourably to those of Europe. 

But one senses that this is less ethnographic admiration, of the sort found in 
Thomas Harriot’s Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588), 
than an attempt to play up the atrocities committed by the Spanish conquistadores 
on an innocent population. Ferdinand was not especially concerned with screening 
out Spanish abuses (except those that directly implicated his father), and his text 
provided much fuel for Dee’s anti-Spanish sentiments. He identified several 
descriptions of what he labelled “ill rule” among the colonists, such as the point in 
the narrative when Columbus returned to Espanola and “asked about the Christians 



136 


W. H. SHERMAN 


he had left there and was told that some had died of sickness, some had separated 
from the rest, and [...] all had four or five wives apiece.” 34 Dee suggested in the 
margin of Q3 V that the Spaniards were too harsh in punishing the Indians and too 
lenient with their own men, and observed that “The Indians [were] seduced by the 
Spaniards to vse violence.” 35 When Ferdinand suggested that “The Admiral would 
not permit his men to take anything [...] [so] that the Indians might not regard the 
Christians as thieves,” Dee quipped, “Wei done if you had kept that rule allwayes.” 36 
And when Ferdinand reported that some of the settlers had almost degenerated into 
cannibals themselves (“some, like Caribs, proposed to eat the Indians aboard [...] 
and would have done it, too, if the Admiral had not forbidden it, saying that as [...] 
human beings, they should not be treated worse than others”) Dee scathingly 
remarked, “Well sayd, if you allwayes made such account of them.” 37 

But Dee saved his most vehemently critical, and explicitly political, outbursts for 
Ferdinand’s frequent assertions of Spain’s claims to territorial possessions in the 
New World. Dee was well aware of the obstacle the Spanish claims presented to his 
“discovery and recovery enterprise.” What he did with Ferdinand’s account is the 
textual equivalent of Francis Drake’s piratical raids on Spanish ships: he learned 
what he could about the various methods of taking possession (the legal procedures, 
military strategies, ritual dedications, etc.) before refuting the validity of their 
application to Spain. 38 On F5 V Dee wrote along the top margin, “A more close and 
just title by the Popes gift then by force of sword: neyther good, as it was vsed,” and 
alongside the text on that page he entered two simple words - “Possession” and 
“Noe,” echoing a marginal note from several pages back, “No good Possession.” 

Ferdinand’s text ends with a brief section, probably added by the translator, 
which describes Columbus’s funeral and celebrates his legacy. On these last few 
pages Dee hung a final string of objections: “Where?”, “Note Eyes”, “Note this 
Aequivocation”, “By what justice?”. In the end, Dee could only match the text’s 
triumphant conclusion - “History knows of no man who ever did the like, wherefore 
the world will ever remember the first discoverer of the West Indies” - with a final, 
emphatic “Not true.” 


Ill 

As in the sources I have discussed in my previous accounts, this encounter reveals a 
Dee who is more concerned with advocating policies gleaned from his reading of 
historical texts than with establishing “a quasi-mystical, quasi-scientific, quasi¬ 
religious world order” based on his own prophecies. 39 Nevertheless, history and pro¬ 
phecy are inextricably linked in Renaissance thought and its extensions into the New 
World; and there is evidence to suggest that, for at least a brief period, Dee gave in 
to a “prophetic impulse” not unlike that which had driven Columbus to the ends of 
the earth. Djelal Kadir’s provocative study, Columbus and the Ends of the Earth: 
Europe’s Prophetic Rhetoric as Conquering Ideology , describes Columbus’s “self- 
perceived role as providential agent with [...] a prophetic task”, 40 in which he is “the 
elect hero and privileged emissary to play out the last and climactic act of this 
cosmic theater.” 41 And, in a useful paper describing the 1583 angelic conversations 



DEE’S COLUMBIAN ENCOUNTER 


137 


which accompanied (and to some extent explained) Dee’s departure from England 
and his withdrawal from the imperial projects he had helped to set in motion, 
Stephen Clucas finds a new strain of apocalyptic prophecy: “Dee hoped for a divine 
millennial comedy,” he concludes, “whose catastrophe would be universal for¬ 
giveness and the apotheosis of his nation.” 42 While I clearly underplayed these 
important sources in my previous account of Dee’s role in English imperial expan¬ 
sion, I remain wary of a tendency to mystify the terms of Dee’s highly rhetorical 
conversations (angelic and otherwise), and to project them onto circumstances in 
which they may not apply. 

In tracing the parallels between Dee’s and Columbus’s projects there is a danger 
of collapsing the differences between the two explorers, as well as obscuring the 
particular circumstances of their own lives. Kadir suggests that “the prophetic 
impulse exhorts peregrination to the peripheries, to the thresholds or liminalities of 
time-space [...] It obliges one to live beyond one’s present and [...] in an untenable 
terrain.” 43 This certainly applies to the exploration represented by Dee’s angelic 
conversations as much as to the voyages of Columbus. But it is not much help in 
placing Dee’s encounter with Columbus; and I would suggest that we need to attend 
to a different, and more precise, set of time-space coordinates. Like England’s 
interest in the New World in general, Dee’s Columbian encounter was belated and 
second-hand. His exploration, which took place in the margins of a book in a library, 
was that of the armchair traveller. And it took place at a moment of significant 
political and professional insecurity. 

In a discussion of Columbus’s prophetic writings published the same year as 
Kadir’s, Valerie Flint offered a different reading of his prophetic posture: she 
suggested that “the great need he had for a Tmem honestum’ [honest end], a 
justifying higher motive for his pursuit of gold for his sovereigns and rewards for his 
family [...] might bring us to look now with new eyes upon the nature of Columbus’s 
attachment to the [apocalyptic and messianic messages].” 44 Other work on prophecy 
in the early modem period has stressed that it was usually deployed by marginal 
figures, and while it was usually concerned with some form of national legitimation 
it was also a means of personal legitimation. 45 We may not think of figures like Dee 
or, especially, Columbus as marginal figures in need of legitimation; but they felt, 
and expressed, this need acutely. Despite the status which their explorations granted 
them, both Dee and Columbus - like Doctor Faustus - were ultimately bound by the 
constraints of service. 

There is, in fact, one significant moment of sympathy in Dee’s Columbian 
marginalia, where he wrote “True” rather than “Not true” - and it concerned 
Columbus the frustrated advocate of exploration rather than Columbus the 
celebrated prophet of empire. In the early chapters of the work, Ferdinand recounted 
how Columbus made the rounds of the European courts seeking a patron for his 
voyages - including England’s own King Henry VII (whose counsellors Dee faulted 
for losing this opportunity). The passage which evoked Dee’s sympathetic 
agreement concerns Queen Isabella’s reluctance to invest and reads, “As for the 
foolish argument that it would discredit the Queen to have contributed to the project 



138 


W. H. SHERMAN 


in case the Admiral did not fulfill his promises, he was rather of the opinion that the 
Sovereigns would be regarded as generous and high-minded princes for having tried 
to penetrate the secrets of the universe [.. .].” 46 

The work of Mary Helms throws some light on the position that Dee and 
Columbus found themselves in, which was at once powerful and precarious. In her 
book, Ulysses’ Sail , Helms traces an association, in pre-modem cultures, between 
esoteric knowledge, travel, and socio-professional status: “To the extent [...] that 
geographically distant places, peoples and experiences are perceived [...] within 
essentially supernatural or cosmological contexts, then knowledge of, or 
acquaintance with, geographically distant places, peoples and things rightfully falls 
within the domain of political-religious specialists whose job it is to deal with 
‘mysteries’.” 47 Lisa Jardine and Jerry Brotton have recently applied Helms’s insights 
to the world of Renaissance ambassadors; 48 but they may be even more applicable to 
less official, more mysterious emissaries like Columbus and Dee. 


IV 

In justifying his own “desire to speak with the dead,” Stephen Greenblatt explains 
that “the dead [have] contrived to leave textual traces of themselves, and those 
traces make themselves heard in the voices of the living. Many of the traces have 
little resonance, though every one, even the most trivial or tedious, contains some 
fragment of lost life; others seem uncannily full of the will to be heard.” 49 It may 
well seem that the traces of Dee’s marginal encounter with Columbus are more 
trivial and tedious than uncannily full of the will to be heard, and it is easy to be 
disappointed by such texts. It should be clear even from the Life of Columbus that 
Dee’s annotations lack, for the most part, the personal, creative, and emotional 
intensity that modern readers have come to look for in engagements with texts. 
Likewise, they may seem less resonant than the dramatic stories of exploration and 
piracy which have sustained and shaped Elizabethan maritime history. 

But if they are seen in the context of a range of transactions - if they are set 
alongside not only the texts which they annotated but the explorations which they 
informed - such marginal texts do afford an unexpected intimacy and vitality. They 
may also take us closer to the important ways in which texts mediated both personal 
lives and power politics in the early modern period. And, finally, in what they do if 
not always in what they say, they may be an unexpected key to the “secrets of the 
universe” that Dee and Columbus tried to master and offer both to their patrons and 
to posterity. 


NOTES 

1 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo; Nelle quali s ’ha particolare, & vera relatione della vita, & de ’ fatti 
dell’ Ammiraglio D. CHRISTOFORO COLOMBO, suopadre (Venetia, 1571). First published in Italian thirty- 
two years after Ferdinand’s death, this text took an appropriately eccentric route to the press. Ferdinand wrote 
his account in Spain and in Spanish, but it remained unpublished during his life. After his death in 1539 the 



DEE’S COLUMBIAN ENCOUNTER 


139 


manuscript found its way into the hands of the Genoese physician Baliano de Fomari, who finally took it to 
Venice to be translated by Alfonso Ulloa. When Fomari died, not only were the projected Spanish and Latin 
editions abandoned but the Spanish original was lost. For a useful account of the text, and a listing of recent 
editions, see the English translation of Benjamin Keen, The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus, by his 
Son, Ferdinand (New Bmnswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1958; repr., 1992), whose edition I cite 
throughout. 

2 Dee traveled to the Continent in 1571 to consult with doctors about the queen’s illness, and it is possible that 
he acquired the book on that trip. 

3 See R&W 1101. The entry reads, “Historia del mondo nuovo di Fernando Colombo. 8o Ven. 1571.” This 
misleading description might be explained by the hill title of the work: after “suo padre” the title-page 
continues, “Et dello scoprimento, ch’egli fece dell’INDIE Occidentali, dette MONDO NUOVO, hora 
possedute dal Sereniss. Re Catolico.” If we imagine the title-page being quickly scanned during a hasty 
inventory, it is easy to see how the words “historia” (the first word) and “mondo nuovo” (in all caps) would be 
picked out. 

4 The British Library has three copies of this text: the one containing Dee’s annotations is shelf-mark 615.d.7. 

5 1 want to thank Julian Roberts for confirming my attribution. See his comments in his essay in this volume. 

6 William H. Sherman, John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance (Amherst: 
University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), Chapter 7. 

7 See especially E. G. R. Taylor, Tudor Geography, 1485-1583 (London: Methuen, 1930) and D.W. 
Waters, The Art of Navigation in England in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times (London: Hollis and 
Carter, 1958). 

8 John Dee, Brytanici Imperii Limites, British Library, Additional MS 59681, 29. 

9 Needless to say, this was not the only venture which Dee helped to advance, nor were Dee’s texts the only 
ones which tried to come to terms with Columbus and Spanish imperial claims. 

10 On Columbus’s reading see, most recently, Valerie Flint, The Imaginative Landscape of Christopher 
Columbus (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992). On Columbus’s own texts and their Renaissance 
readers see Margarita Zamora, Reading Columbus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) - 
especially her chapter, “In the Margins of Columbus.” 

11 Djelal Kadir, Columbus and the Ends of the Earth: Europe's Prophetic Rhetoric as Conquering Ideology 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 1-2. In fact, my own book opens with an almost identical 
formulation. 

12 Cited on the back cover of Keen, Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus. 

13 Sherman, 85-86. 

14 Sig. AT in the original, p. lxxi in Keen’s translation. In all subsequent citations of Ferdinand’s text I will 
provide the page number on which the original Italian passage appears and the page number from Keen’s 
English translation. When citing Dee’s marginalia alone I will only refer to the original text. Dee’s marginalia 
are in Latin, Italian and English: I have retained the original spelling and punctuation for those in English and 
have silently translated the rest. 

15 By the estimate of John Boyd Thacher, Ferdinand “gathered no less than 15,370 books and manuscripts” 
(Keen, viii). A new descriptive catalogue of the library is currently being compiled from Ferdinand’s own 
“Repertories”: Catalogo Concordado de la Biblioteca de Hernando Colon , ed. Tomas Marin Martinez, Jose 
Manuel Ruiz Asencio, and Klaus Wagner (Seville: Cabilado de la Catedral de Sevilla, 1993). 

16 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. a3 r ; lxxiv. 

17 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. E6 r ; 45. 

18 David W. Waters, The Art of Navigation in England in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Times (London: Hollis 
and Carter, 1958). 

19 This appears in Chapter 36 (sigs. K4 v -K5 r ) in the original, Chapter 37 (92) in Keen. 

20 Anthony Grafton, New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery 
(Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 1992), esp. Chapter 2. 

21 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. C3 r . 

22 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. T5 V . 

23 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. T5 V . 

24 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. F7 V . 

25 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sigs. T5 r , X3 V . 

26 Sherman, 187-189. 



140 


W. H. SHERMAN 


27 Gwyn Williams, Madoc: The Legend of the Welsh Discovery of America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 
1987). 

28 Stephen Greenblatt, Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1991). 

29 Dee’s copy of Vol.l of this 2-volume work ( R&W 238) is now at the library of the Royal College of 
Physicians, London (shelf-mark D5/8, 48f). For a sophisticated reading of ‘the geographical imagination’ of 
Thevet - whose career parallels Dee’s in some interesting ways - see Frank Lestringant, Mapping the 
Renaissance World: The Geographical Imagination in the Age of Discovery. Trans, by David Fausett 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). 

30 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. H5 V . 

31 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. 15 v . 

32 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. F6 r . 

33 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. 02 v . 

34 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. N3 r ; 118. 

35 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. Yl v . 

36 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. G8 V ; 67. 

37 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. T5 V ; 173. 

38 For a useful comparative perspective on these practices see Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in 
Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). 

39 Gwyn Williams, “ Welsh Wizard and British Empire: Dr. John Dee and a Welsh Identity .” The Gwyn Jones 
Lecture (Cardiff: University College Cardiff Press, 1980), 6. 

40 Kadir, 2. 

41 Kadir, x. This approach to Columbus has been increasingly popular in the 1980s and 90s: cf. Pauline 
Moffitt Watts, “Prophesy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus’s ‘Enterprise of 
the Indies’”, American Historical Review, 90 (1985): 73-102, and Alain Milhou, Colon y su mentalidad 
mesianica franciscanista espahola (Valladolid: Casa-Museo de Colon, 1983). For an English edition and 
explication of the key text, see August Kling and Delno C. West, trans. & eds., The Libro de las Profeclas of 
Christopher Columbus (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1991). 

42 Stephen Clucas, “‘Thow shalt prevayle agaynst them’: John Dee and the Politics of the Elizabethan 
Court 1575-1585” - a paper delivered at Northern Arizona University, 13 February 1996.1 am grateful to 
Stephen Clucas for sharing a copy of this paper with me and for ongoing discussions of Dee and his 
contemporaries. 

43 Kadir, 20. 

44 Flint, 208. 

45 Richard L. Kagan, Lucretia’s Dreams: Politics and Prophecy in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1990); Phyllis Mack, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in 17th- 
Century England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Diane Purkiss, “Producing the Voice, 
Consuming the Body: Women Prophets of the 17th Century” in Isobel Grundy and Susan Wiseman, eds., 
Women, Writing, History: 1640 - 1799 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992). 

46 Historie Del S.D. Fernando Colombo, sig. E5 r , 43. 

47 Mary W. Helms, Ulysses’ Sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Power, Knowledge, and Geographical 
Distance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 5. 

48 1 am grateful for the chance to read some of their work in progress on this topic. 

49 Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 1. 



PART THREE: DEE AND THE OCCULT SCIENCES 



KAREN DE LEON-JONES 


JOHN DEE AND THE KABBALAH 


IS THERE A CHRISTIAN KABBALAH ? 

Recent scholarly debate on the impact of the Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, 
on the development of early modem Christian thought has been divided over 
whether the reception of the Kabbalah was motivated by philo- or anti-Semitism. 
Even in the same volume, contrasting opinions may be upheld by critics . 1 Debates 
are welcome, however, as they demonstrate not only the recognition of influence of 
Judaism on Christianity, but also because they show the progress made not only by 
scholarship on Jewish-Christian relations but also in what was once called the 
“occult philosophy”. The degree of detailed research indicates that no one seriously 
doubts that there were Christians not only familiar with Jewish Kabbalah but who 
considered themselves to be practicing Kabbalists while remaining wholly within 
whatever form of Christianity they embraced, whether Catholic or Protestant. 
Current research into the Jewish tradition and its relationship to Christian thought 
by scholars of the calibre of Moshe Idel and David Ruderman 2 has moved a long 
way from the initial groundbreaking studies of Gershom Scholem on Jewish 
mysticism and Kabbalah, or from Frances Yates, Paolo Rossi and D. P. Walker, 
who first mentioned the more “esoteric” and pluralistic aspects of prisca theologia 
in Christian intellectual circles and whose writings are now familiar to anyone 
undertaking the study of early modem thought. Yates in particular played an 
important role in signalling the presence of the Kabbalah in the Neoplatonic circles 
in England and on the Continent, inspired by the Italian School founded by Marsilio 
Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. 

Undoubtedly there were Christian practitioners of the Kabbalah. Pico was most 
likely one of them, however Ficino, who initially introduced the Kabbalah in his 
philosophical writings, was certainly not one of them. The issue of who is a 
Kabbalist is a complex one, as there is no consensus among scholars as to how to 
define the term. Each critic or historian has used the term “Kabbalist” differently, 
sometimes to indicate Christian Hebraic scholars who focused specifically on 
recuperating, translating and commenting Jewish Kabbalistic works, sometimes 
simply to indicate a Christian thinker who makes essentially very general remarks 
on the subject. Kabbalah was common knowledge in the sixteenth century. 

I would argue that it was an intellectual trend that can be compared to the pop¬ 
ularity of some critical methodologies in the twentieth century, particularly to some 
of the hermeneutical approaches such as Deconstmctionism, that can be found in 
more or less complex forms in the writings of scholars and critics who more or less 

143 

S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought , 143-158. 

© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



144 


K. DE LEON-JONES 


grasp the material. Thus I hesitate to apply the term “Kabbalist” to any thinker, 
especially Christian pluralists or syncretists of the early modern period, preferring 
instead to consider each case individually, keeping in mind that Kabbalah is a 
phenomenon of the sixteenth century intellectual world. I must emphasise that I do 
not, a priori , assume or exclude the possibility that Christians can be Kabbalists: 
rather I accept that there is a form of Christian Kabbalah, and Christians who con¬ 
sidered themselves practitioners or at least initiates. Whether present scholarship or 
they themselves would have used the term “Kabbalist” to designate themselves, is 
another question. 

Among the thinkers Yates labelled a “Christian Cabalist” is the mathematician 
John Dee. In the sixteenth century many mathematicians, for example, Johannes 
Kepler and Tycho Brahe, were familiar with at least the reputed numerological 
aspect of the Kabbalah, although the greatest mathematician interested in the 
Kabbalistic tradition was probably Leibniz, a century later. Ever visionary in her 
scope, the basic premise of Yates’s famous work, The Occult Philosophy in the 
Elizabethan Age argues in favour of a significant and widespread influence of the 
Jewish tradition, that is the Kabbalah, on Elizabethan thought: she even approaches 
the somewhat tricky issue of philo- versus anti-Semitism. 3 For Yates, Dee is part of 
an establishment context of Kabbalah that permeates all of his opus : from mathe¬ 
matical speculation to imperial propaganda, and of course angel magic. Of his 
stance on the Jews, she is rather silent, as in fact there is little material for discussion 
given that Dee’s writings on Kabbalah are nearly asemitic. While I disagree that 
Dee is an inherently and intrinsically Hermetic-Kabbalistic thinker, let alone 
necessarily a true “Christian Cabalist”, I do agree with Yates’s insistence that Dee’s 
use of Kabbalah is intrinsic to his mathematical theorizing, as outlined in his early 
works on Euclidean geometry. As Yates rightly pointed out, the extant texts that 
designate Dee’s familiarity with Kabbalah are his renowned preface to Euclid’s 
geometry, his Aphorisms and the Monas Hieroglyphica in which he puts forth a 
clear argument for the mathematical basis of Kabbalah. 


IS JOHN DEE A KABBALIST? 

In his Monas Hieroglyphica (1564), Dee proposes what he terms the “real 
Kabbalah”, to set himself apart from the Christian Kabbalistic tradition. In doing so, 
the uniqueness of his interpretation and the lack of self-definition as a Kabbalist 
make it difficult to define him as such. Like many of his contemporaries, Dee was 
familiar with the Christian form of Jewish mysticism known as the Kabbalah, which 
came into vogue in Renaissance Christian philosophical circles after Giovanni Pico 
della Mirandola’s publication of the (in)famous Conclusions. Various Christian 
Kabbalistic texts by Pico, Johannes Reuchlin and others were owned by Dee, 4 even 
some Jewish ones (those that circulated more freely in Christian circles), often with 
elaborate commentary. Of the Christian adaptations of the Kabbalah, the thinkers 
most influential on Dee have already been identified as most likely to have been 
Cornelius Agrippa and Reuchlin, two of the most renowned thinkers of the period, 
known even among Jewish Kabbalistic circles. Reuchlin’s De arte cabalistica 
(1517) and Agrippa’s De occultaphilosophia (1533) 5 were de rigueur reading, often 



JOHN DEE AND THE KABBALAH 


145 


treated as textbooks or reference guides, for aspiring students of the Kabbalah. The 
general influence of Reuchlin on Dee, well documented by scholars and attested to 
by the numerous heavily annotated works by him present in Dee’s personal library, 
will be discussed later. For now it is crucial to make the point that the influence of 
Reuchlin’s Kabbalistic precepts is manifest in Dee’s careful definition of the term 
“Kabbalah” that implies Reuchlin’s differentiation of the significance of the term 
“Kabbalist” and its employment. 

In the preface to the Monas , Dee claims that the Jewish Kabbalah focuses on 
“what is said”, and is based entirely on grammar, while his is a Kabbalah of “what 
is.” 6 Therefore Dee consciously sets himself apart from what he considers traditional 
Christian Kabbalists, emphasizing his differences with them and the uniqueness of 
his work, rather than points in common. Among these traditionalists are all the 
Christian Hebraists, who learned Hebrew, often from a converted Jew or New 
Christian, so as to study the original text of the Old Testament and the Kabbalah. 
The trend was started by Pico, who learned Hebrew and was initiated into the 
Kabbalah by the New Christian Flavius Mithridates. 7 Many others followed, 
especially in Italy, where there were notable Jewish thinkers of a Neoplatonic and 
Kabbalistic bent such as Leon Ebreo and Johannes Alemanno (who knew Ficino), to 
name a few, and where for a period relations between the faiths permitted 
intellectual exchange. 8 

A Hebraist, Reuchlin himself was heavily influenced by the Italian Neoplatonic 
School of the fifteenth century originating in Ficino and Pico, seen by him to have 
directly inherited the Jewish Tradition. 9 Skilled in the language, Reuchlin published 
a Hebrew grammar and dictionary, for beginners and specialists alike. Although 
inspired by Pico’s pluralistic vision, his philological knowledge of Jewish texts 
surpassed Pico’s, as does his mathematical interest. It is likely that Dee was more 
influenced by Reuchlin in his Kabbalistic thinking than by either Pico or Agrippa. 10 
Let us not forget that Dee’s analysis of Kabbalah is intimately linked to his 
mathematical theories based on Euclidean geometry and Pythagorean theorems. It 
was Reuchlin who ably defended the idea, inherited by the Italian Neoplatonic 
School in a mathematically undeveloped form, that Pythagoreanism was directly 
related to Jewish Kabbalah. 11 He goes so far as to have one of the characters in his 
famous dialogue, De arte cabalistica, define Pythagoreanism in the same manner as 
Kabbalah: “The Pythagorean is he who gives credence to what is said, remains 
silent to begin with, and understands all the precepts.” 12 

By approaching the Kabbalah in a highly mathematical manner, playing on and 
developing Kabbalistic hermeneutic techniques, and transforming them into 
scientific proofs, it is clear that what Dee develops in his Kabbalah are the 
Pythagorean precepts, that Reuchlin already argued were Kabbalistic in his De arte 
cabalistica (1517). Probably Dee’s primary source for the Monas Hieroglyphica , it 
is the only work by Dee that he claims as “Kabbalistic”. For Dee, Reuchlin’s work 
exposes the “real Kabbalah” precisely by demonstrating the proofs of the validity of 
Kabbalah in Pythagorean-like theorems. In Book Two of his De arte cabalistica , for 
example, Reuchlin argued that Pythagoreanism had its origins in Kabbalistic doc¬ 
trines, concluding that Pythagoras had gleaned his ideas concerning the creation and 



146 


K. DE LEON-JONES 


use of symbols from Kabbalah, and that he employed the techniques of gematria , 
notarikon and temurah to derive such things as the Tectractys or Quarternary. 
Accordingly, for Reuchlin the Kabbalah is a sort of symbolic theology, where words 
and letters are codes for other things found in Nature. In a more radical inter¬ 
pretation, Dee reduces Reuchlin’s definition of the Kabbalah to one universal sym¬ 
bol that contains all the theoretical power of the universe: the hieroglyph of the 
Monas. The symbol of the Monas encompasses all of the elements of the structure 
of the universe, all of the theories that illustrate the process of Creation, and con¬ 
tains all of the revelations of the primary sources whether mathematical, philo¬ 
sophical or technological. 

If the Monas contains the revelations of the Kabbalah, does this make Dee a 
Kabbalist? Conveniently, the question of who is and is not a Kabbalist is an ancient 
one, that Reuchlin attempted to resolve in the following manner in his Ars : 

Kabbalah [Cabala] is a matter of divine revelation handed down to further the 
contemplation of the distinct Forms and of God, contemplation bringing salvation; 
Kabbalah is the receiving of this through symbols. Those who are given this by the 
breath of heaven are known as Kabbalics [Cabalici]; their pupils we will call 
Kabbaleans [Cabaleos]; and those who attempt the imitation of these are properly called 
Kabbalists [ Cabalistce ]. Exactly this, day by day, they sweat over their published 
works. 13 

A clear hierarchy, separating the mystic believer from the lay receiver, with a 
barb at the academics who publish on the material. Already in his time, Reuchlin 
saw the diffusion of Kabbalah. The last category is seemingly the one Dee fits into, 
as he is not obviously a receptor of divine revelation in his Kabbalistic writings: one 
may argue that he is in his angel communications, but these works are marginally 
related to Kabbalah, at best. We shall see that although his knowledge of Kabbalah 
itself is certainly of the latter kind, thus of a Kabbalist in the Reuchlinian sense, 
Dee’s aspirations would be to be considered someone who has achieved the sym¬ 
bolic stratum of the Kabbaleans. 

For our purposes, as twentieth-century scholars of the Kabbalah, the term 
“Kabbalist” no longer has the meaning intended by Reuchlin as the tripartite dis¬ 
tinction is not made. Yates certainly did not make such distinctions; she also cer¬ 
tainly thought of Dee, among others, as a practitioner of what she terms “natural 
magic” or the “Hermetic-cabalistic” magic. Unfortunately, none of these definitions 
are entirely satisfactory, as even if consensus were achieved on categories of Kabba¬ 
listic practice or influence, the degree of initiation would nonetheless remain an 
issue. Sixteenth-century thought (I use the term carefully, as this comprises philo¬ 
sophy, theology, mathematics and sciences) is full of Kabbalah, in the loosest 
possible sense of the word. Encyclopaedias and dictionaries of the time employed 
its terminology or at least had a reference to Kabbalah. The first Kabbalistic texts 
printed were published by Christians, presumably because there was a market for 
them. 14 

My hesitation in labelling Dee or any Christian thinker who does not declare 
himself a Kabbalist as well as my arguments against Yates’s labelling him and 
others as such, has been discussed at length elsewhere; 15 essentially, it lies in the 



JOHN DEE AND THE KABBALAH 


147 


facile access to and use of some Kabbalistic jargon or ideas during the sixteenth 
century that do not carry much philosophical or theological weight. Because Dee’s 
otherwise prolific writings on the subject of the Kabbalah are limited to three short 
works with no significant carry over to others and because he is not interested in 
arguing in favour of a Kabbalistic vision of the Monas or espousing a Kabbalistic 
approach to English Protestant theology, I do not consider him a Kabbalist. 

This said, I do not diminish the importance of the Kabbalah in the three works 
influenced by it: the preface to Euclid’s geometry, Dee’s Aphorisms and Monas. I 
will even go so far as to claim that these works do more than testify to the general 
diffusion of the Kabbalah in Elizabethan intellectual circles, but are a unique and 
interesting example of religious and scientific syncretism in the period. Where I 
draw the line is to declare that the Monas , the most complex and complete of the 
three works, is a radical new contribution to the development of Christian Kabbalah 
or that the Monas is a vehicle for Dee’s personal and distinct Kabbalistic revelation. 
Kabbalah, as defined by Dee, is too real, the way numbers are invisible but “real”, 
for it to transmit the inexpressible wonder and awe of Creation at the basis of the 
worship of the Judeo-Christian divinity. 

To the question “Did Dee consider himself a Kabbalist?” I would answer in the 
negative. By carefully distancing himself from Christian Hebraicists, in vogue at the 
time in Reforming circles such as that of Philip Sidney, Dee emphasizes the 
scientific rather than the mystical concept of Kabbalah, that voids it of its par¬ 
ticularly Jewish character and in turn eliminates all the pro-Reform rhetoric often 
associated with Christian Kabbalah. The rapture inspired or sought by the Kabbalah 
among Christians is well documented, one has only to think of the writings of 
Giordano Bruno, in the 1580s, who fused science with mysticism, whose polemical 
tone urged a reform of Christianity. What is original to Dee, is that the mystical 
language associated with the Kabbalah is totally lacking in the Monas. It is replaced 
by the use of Kabbalistic terms such as gematria , temurah and notarikon associated 
with numerologically based hermeneutical techniques. These are carefully inter¬ 
preted in a Pythagorean vein, to disassociate the Kabbalistic techniques from their 
exegetical or grammatical use, and rather to emphasise their mathematical value. 
Through the Kabbalah, whose number mysticism is often reduced in its Christian 
form to number symbolism, he aspires to provide a new universal symbol whose 
mystical potential also has mathematical credibility. By doing so, Dee takes further 
the Christological interpretations of Kabbalistic precepts begun by Pico: the 
prophetic voice of the Kabbalah that Pico describes is here redefined and contained 
in the symbol of the mathematical universe, the monad, that Dee calls a cross. 
Although it is Reuchlin who stated that Kabbalah provides the symbolism that is the 
absolute basis of life, 16 for him this is also a declaration of faith. For Dee, it is the 
generating life force of the universe, which derives from the divinity but is neither a 
definition nor a description of God. Crucially, the Monas is not a symbol to interact 
with, as the sefirot , manifestations of the divinity, may be for the Jewish or 
Christian Kabbalist. Without creating a direct relationship with the divine, at the 
basis of Reformed Christianity, the symbol of the Monas may have Christological 
and cosmological implications, but it is not a meditative device for the faithful to 
focus their belief upon. 



148 


K. DE LEON-JONES 


This is a startling deviation from most Christian Kabbalistic thinkers, who place 
themselves in a long line of Jewish and Christian Kabbalistic authorities, and insist 
on the precedent not the innovation. Earlier generations of Christian Hebraicists 
hunted for rare and unpublished, untranslated Hebrew texts that could deepen their 
acquisition of the language as a means of penetrating the mysteries of the Kabbalah, 
forcing it to reveal the universal Truth of Christian fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. 
Rather than seek to translate and publish Hebrew works, Dee presents himself as the 
publisher of Pythagorean theorems and Euclidean Geometry: it is a return to the 
Greek basics. Kabbalah derives from and depends upon Greek culture, precursor in 
its own right of the Christian rationalist tradition. Furthermore, Dee is sidestepping 
the great debates of his time, centred around the Aristotelian School at Oxford and 
the Platonic school often associated with Christian Hebraicists, by returning to pre- 
Socratic thought. This said, again Reuchlin offers an alternative, by defending 
Pythagorean mathematics with the statement that the Arab mathematician Abu- 
bacher claimed that “Mathematical knowledge was still not perfect at the time of 
Aristotle.” 17 Thinkers like Bruno who were contemporaries of Dee will resolve the 
issue differently, proposing a syncretic model that absorbs all of the above. Nicholas 
Clulee has convincingly outlined Dee’s polemic against traditional Kabbalah, and 
the fact that Dee retains only the link between Grammar and Mathematics, which 
Dee discusses in his Dedication to the Monas. Rather than basing his Kabbalah on 
language, Dee’s “alphabet of nature”, as most scholars agree to define it, is based on 
Euclidean Geometry and Pythagorean mathematics. Thus the “real Kabbalah” 
according to Dee is a mathematical Truth that can be proven concretely by numbers 
and spiritually in the profound revelations it offers as to the source of the power of 
Creation. The “Kabbalah of what exists” is a revelation of the potential of human 
knowledge and comprehension, as all the Arts are united in it, whose ultimate 
source may be God, but whose power is comprehensible and quantifiable. Dee 
approaches the Kabbalah as mathematics, treating the Kabbalistic principles he 
espouses as if they were theorems or hypotheses, while at the same time uni- 
versalising his Kabbalah as an all-inclusive discipline. Dee then, is not easily 
labelled a Kabbalist, or even a Kabbalistic thinker, but one who utilizes certain 
specific aspects of the Kabbalah in a unique manner. It is precisely in this inno¬ 
vative interpretation of traditional Kabbalistic principles or techniques that the 
significance of the “real Kabbalah” postulated by Dee lies. 

Ironically, creativity and innovation are what make it problematic to label Dee a 
Kabbalist. The term has certain implications. It implies adherence to certain prac¬ 
tices and beliefs that Dee did not share. At the very least, those thinkers generally 
labelled Christian Kabbalists were dedicated to the study of the Hebrew texts, to 
promulgation and commentary much in the same manner as their Jewish models: 
two outstanding examples of this are of course Pico and Johannes Reuchlin. The 
term also implies the development of a Christian Kabbalistic system that incor¬ 
porates within a syncretic philosophy the fundamental principles of the Jewish texts. 
At the basis of this system is always the cosmology of the sefirot that reveals the 
secret Names or aspects of God, and that when contemplated and meditated on lead 
to a direct mystical union with the Deity. Few of the Christian thinkers who delved 
into the teachings of the Kabbalah could really be labelled Kabbalists. Most 



JOHN DEE AND THE KABBALAH 


149 


Christians interested in Kabbalah avoided delving more than necessary into the 
often obscure depths of the discipline, relying predominantly on Christian texts and 
applying the art in a wholly superficial manner. At best they may be deemed 
Kabbalistic thinkers, not Kabbalists. In the case of Dee, his specific interest in the 
Monas Hieroglyphica in the Kabbalah of Creation, and his reduction of the 
Kabbalah to gematria transforms this contemplative, mystical art into a mathe¬ 
matical discipline: into the “Kabbalah of reality” wherein lies the power of Creation. 
It is impossible to consider him a Kabbalist when he does away with so much of the 
fundamental character of the Kabbalah, whether in its Jewish or Christian form. 


MONAS HIEROGL YPHICA 

Dee comprehends and interprets the Kabbalah in a context different from that of 
both his predecessors and contemporaries. Schooled in the pluralistic Humanist 
tradition, that united Neo-Platonism, Neo-Pythagoreanism, Hermeticism, Alchemy 
and Kabbalah, Dee is actually at the cusp of modernity that will take the Humanist 
tradition further into a syncretic whole. He will transform syncretism into synthesis. 
What sets Dee apart from his contemporaries is the extent to which he 
“mathematicizes” his peculiar version of the Kabbalah, essentially eliminating from 
it the usual cosmological, exegetical, mystical and prophetic aspects that fascinated 
Humanists. A mathematician of some note, expert in navigation and optics, Dee is a 
thinker of what now would be termed a “scientific bent”, curious about the workings 
of nature, in all its manifestations and ramifications. His curiosity encompasses 
metaphysics and mysticism, Euclidean geometry and communications with angels 
to get at the primordial mystery of Nature: and it is precisely in this seemingly para¬ 
doxical union, typical of early modernity, that Dee must be understood. 

Two aspects of the Jewish Kabbalah primarily interested Christian thinkers: the 
cosmology of the sefirot and the magical/mystical manipulation of the Hebrew 
alphabet. Dee eliminates from his Kabbalah the ten emanations or Names of God, 
the sefirot. Dee never mentions the ten emanations by name, which is extremely 
significant, as they are the basis of Kabbalistic cosmology, as well as ten of the 
Names of God, and are the most popular adaptation of the Kabbalah amongst 
Christian thinkers. Unlike his contemporaries, obsessed with the multiplication of 
cosmological systems to structure their universe, Dee never brings in the sefirot , 
even though they are also known as the divine numerations, and we shall see that 
Dee is interested in the mathematical basis of the Kabbalah. 

What Dee retains of the Kabbalah in the Monas are the three hermeneutic 
techniques, based on the manipulation of letters, that result in numerical calculation: 
gematria , notarikon , and temurah. Gematria is the calculation of the numerical 
equivalent assigned to each consonant of the Hebrew alphabet ( aleph , the first 
consonant equals the number one) so that words that are different in linguistic 
significance are equivalent numerically, and thus semantically linked. Notarikon is 
the representation of an entire word by any consonant that makes up its root (vowels 
are not written), usually the first letter of the word. (An excellent example of this is 
Dee’s use of the Greek letter delta to represent his name.) Temurah is the exchange 



150 


K. DE LEON-JONES 


of one consonant for another, much like a basic code, so that words are rewritten not 
in the letters that phonetically represent the sound, but using other letters assigned to 
represent the sounds (b for d, d for f). 

Ultimately, the purpose of much Kabbalistic speculation is to imitate the act of 
the Creation of Adam and produce an artificial anthropoid, shaped from clay: the 
golem. At the very heart of certain Kabbalah is the explication, interpretation and 
commentary on Creation for a practical purpose. Already early texts like the Sefer 
Yetzirah and the Bahir reveal the secrets of not only God’s Act, but on how the 
worthy may create or animate a golem. In the early Jewish texts the consonants of 
the Hebrew alphabet serve as not only the vehicle for the primordial Creation, but 
for the creation of the golem. After fashioning a figure from clay, the Kabbalist 
inscribes on the forehead three letters, T1 Q (< aleph, mem, tav) that form the 
word emet (truth). Afterwards, the Hebrew alphabet, in all its permutations 
including the vowel-consonant combinations, is recited, to animate the being. The 
golem contains all the permutations of the alphabet, like the Monad. The difference 
is that the creature itself cannot create, for it is sterile. In essence, this is an imitation 
of the biblical account of the creation of Adam. Thus the Theorems are Kabbalistic 
because they too replicate the act of Creation by creating the symbol of the Monas. 
That is to say, the symbol of the Monas is a sort of golem , within the Kabbalistic 
tradition, and also tied into the alchemical tradition of the creation of the homun¬ 
culus. The adept or initiate who assembles, through Dee’s Theorems, the hieroglyph 
of the Monas may animate it in the fashion of the Kabbalists animating the golem : 
by inscribing the Truth ( emet in Hebrew), on the figure. Emet appears repeatedly in 
other works by Dee, such as De heptarchia mystica as a Seal and a divine Name, 
which reconnects the Monas Hieroglyphica with Dee’s angel magic and other 
speculations. 

Dee himself declares the hieroglyphic Monas to be, among other things, 
“Kabbalistic”, and claims that the text will explicate the figure “mathematically, 
magically, cabalistically and anagogically.” 18 Clulee rightly defines the Monas as “a 
powerful hieroglyph revealing the unity of created nature and embodying the unity 
of knowledge about the unity of creation.” 19 Dee attempts to contain in one symbol 
the process of Creation, confident that the unity of creation is revealed through 24 
theorems based on the 24 Metatheses of the Pythagorean Quaternary. Through the 
theorems with which he assembles the hieroglyph of the Monas, Dee attempts to 
demonstrate the primordial act of Creation, with the intention of containing the 
potential of creation. These theorems are reiterations of Euclidean and Pythagorean 
principles, with which Dee was intimately familiar. Pythagoras assumes number to 
be the indisputable, fundamental component of what exists. What is Kabbalistic 
about Dee’s theorems is the method behind their construction, which is an 
expansion of the hermeneutic techniques of gematria , notarikon and temurah. By 
adapting techniques traditionally applied to textual analysis, often in the context of 
interpreting Genesis, Dee underscores the fact that his work concerns the process of 
Creation. By applying techniques of biblical exegesis to his Theorems, Dee expli¬ 
cates a “creationist Kabbalah” that defines what is, how it came to be and how it 
may come to be. Dee is the first thinker to attempt the construction, mathematically 
proven in 24 theorems, of a symbol of Creation, and is unique in suggesting it as a 



JOHN DEE AND THE KABBALAH 


151 


“scientific” hypothesis and arguing its proof based on the Kabbalah. 

To condense the Kabbalah into a symbol Dee must first construct it. This he 
does beginning with the straight line, circle and point: the three elements from 
which letters are also composed. The first five theorems are a very close re¬ 
interpretation of Genesis, even with the appearance of the Sun and Moon. If read in 
the manner of Kabbalistic exegesis, the first theorems are very interesting in their 
relationship to the tradition of Pico, Reuchlin and Guillaume Postel, who most 
closely follow the hermeneutics of the books Yetzirah and Bahir. In these early 
Jewish texts Genesis is replayed through the formation of the letters of the Hebrew 
alphabet, tracing out the shapes of the consonants and interpreting them in a 
mystical vein, revealing the intrinsic divine powers of the letters. Dee, who laments 
in the text of the Monas the inadequate explanations of Jewish Kabbalists for the 
configuration of the letters, provides through the theorems of the “real Kabbalah”, 
what he claims are the true reasons for the “shapes of the letters, their positions, 
their order in the alphabet, and their numerical value.” At the origin of all letters, 
according to Reuchlin and Dee, is the point, line and circle: that is, they derive from 
the most basic geometrical symbols. Rather than the explicit heaven and earth of 
Genesis 1:1, in Theorem I Dee divides the line and circle: Reuchlin had already 
described the derivation of the Monad from numbers that derive from duality, points 
from numbers, lines from points, plane figures from lines, solid figures from plane 
figures, and from these solid bodies and this sensible world, a globe with all its 
orbits, and its constituent elements: fire, air, water, earth. 20 So it is clear that the 
bodies, appearing in a later Theorem, derive from the same geometrical source as 
letters. Dee’s Kabbalah thus centres around the manipulation of the letters of the 
Hebrew alphabet, and the development of what I would term a language for 
Creation that can ultimately be reduced to one complex symbol that contains and 
incorporates the meanings and powers that the letter combinations of an alphabet 
transform into language and then act and revelation. In one of the theorems, it shall 
be seen that the actual pictorial representation, the glyph of the Monas itself, is 
made up of letters, and of their numerical values. 


THEOREMS 

Theorem I is very much like the opening lines of the Bahir , notably repeated by 
Reuchlin, in which the first verse of Genesis, in Hebrew, bereshit elohim (God 
created), is interpreted in light of the initial consonant bet (l). 21 In Hebrew, bet has 
the value of two, and Dee poses two initial units from which all else is created: “by 
the straight line and the circle.” In Pythagorean speculation, two is the first number, 
since one is the basis of number. 22 But there are also two worlds to consider, the 
micro- and macro-cosm, encountered in Theorem XXII with the mortal and 
immortal Adam. As in the second verse of Genesis, in Theorem II form emerges, 
expanding from the base of matter: line and circle with the point. Earth forms from 
these components in Theorem III, in addition to the Sun and Moon, concluding the 
first day of Creation, as Dee himself notes in Theorem V. The genesis of the Monad, 
is an imitation of the primordial act, a demonstration of the evolution of geometry 
and a profound argument for the mathematical structure of the universe: an inno- 


152 


K. DE LEON-JONES 


vative speculation, for the time. In the first Theorems Dee establishes that universal 
meanings may be appointed to all symbols, thus the calculations based on the sym¬ 
bols may be universally applied, since in essence he manipulates the three funda¬ 
mental components (line, circle and point) using three fundamental techniques. 

Thus, there exists an affinity between grammarians, the manipulators of 
language, and mathematicians, the manipulators of numbers, united by Dee’s “real 
Pythagorean Kabbalah”. Apart from the linguistic and numerical value of a letter, 
the symbol itself is significantly made up of geometrical shapes, as is seen in the 
theorems. Dee links his hieroglyph with grammar, and thus with the use of sacred 
language. It is, however, a Pythagorean language, with a mathematical basis, so that 
the hieroglyph is defined in the “Pythagorean manner”. The powerful result of a 
Pythagorean manner of understanding the hieroglyph is that as numbers are 
universal signs, the meaning of the symbol can be universally recognized, trans¬ 
cending language. Grammar is universal to all languages, but all languages are not 
universally understood: hence, language is not an impartial description of reality, 
like numbers. Consequently, Dee claims that he will explain the functions of letters, 
at the basis of Kabbalah, in terms of what, according to Pythagoras, incontestably 
exists: the mathematical principles of the universe. Clulee has already demonstrated 
how the disciplines of grammar and geometry, among others listed by Dee, are 
incorporated in his “real Kabbalah”. 23 

Dee expands the linguistic-numeric power of letters to the Greek and Latin 
alphabets, and treats the components of language, expressed or defined by an alpha¬ 
bet, made up of letters, as Pythagorean symbols. In essence, the symbols that make 
up the three alphabets represent the same sounds, they derive their form from the 
point, line or circle and have a numeric value: thus they contain the same power of 
Creation. Therefore, he not only applies the three linguistic techniques of the 
Kabbalah to the Latin tongue, but attempts to condense the complexities of 
linguistic combinatory techniques into a unique symbol, a hieroglyph, adding an 
“Egyptianizing” element to the linguistic syncretism of his philosophy. A hiero¬ 
glyph is essentially a symbol that has a pictorial, linguistic and magical value. It 
remains then within the confines of the Pythagorean interest in symbols. In his 
Theorems Dee composes the Monas in the same manner that a Kabbalist composes 
a golem: through letters. 

In his theorems Dee transforms the three basic Kabbalistic techniques of 
exegetical method into scientific method. Gematria (the calculation of the numerical 
equivalent of a letter) is equated by Dee with geometry, and is thus the most 
common Kabbalistic technique he employs and will be the focus of my analysis of 
his theorems. Geometrical gematria is most evident and most complex in those 
theorems related to the supporting Cross element of the Monas, based on 
Pythagorean concepts. The Cross is significantly composed of either the Ternary 
(formed by two intersecting straight lines and the centre) or the Quaternary (formed 
by four straight lines enclosing four right angles). To begin the possible gematriot , 
the two Pythagorean definitions of the Cross of the Monas are derived from the 
double sense of the symbol and the doubling of the parts that make it up. When the 
elements of the Quaternary are squared, they produce the Octad: the squaring of the 



JOHN DEE AND THE KABBALAH 


153 


figure is also a form of gematria. To attain the Septenary, the lines and point, still 
treated as if they had a numerical or linguistic value, can be added together to form 
seven: the two lines plus the point of the Ternary and the four lines of the 
Quaternary equal seven elements. According to this logic, the gematria or geometry 
of the universe unites the Ternary and the Quaternary to the Septenary or the Octad, 
so that the Monas contains all the fundamental Pythagorean numbers. Their equal 
numeric value can only prove their equal interpretative value. What is truly 
fascinating in Dee’s case is that he derives gematriot for the components of a 
symbol, not of a word or phrase: he has invented the gematria of symbolic images. 

Theorem VIII illustrates well Dee’s syncretic Kabbalistic-Pythagorean method. 
Dee ably reiterates the Pythagorean expansion of the Quaternary (that Reuchlin 
associates with the four letter Name of God, the Tetragrammaton, DTP) in the 
Decad (1+2+3+4=10), claiming that it is a “Kabbalistic extension”. What follows is 
also a significant Kabbalistic explication of the Latin use of letters to signify 
numbers. Thus the Roman numeral X (letter X), is both the Quaternary and the 
Decad. On the one hand it recalls the Rectilinear Cross of Theorem VI, symbol of 
the Quaternary: which, if the four straight lines are separated, gives four of the 
Roman numeral I (letter I). On the other hand, the numerical value of the symbol is 
ten: naturally, it also contains the Ternary and the Septenary, which add up to the 
Decad. This is a very limited example of gematria. It is an obvious application of 
the technique, resulting in the unoriginal conclusion that the Monad is the unity that 
comprehends multiplicity. 

A more successful interpretive calculation is that of the Roman numeral V, or 
the Latin letter “V” found in Theorem XVI. Two straight lines of equal length shape 
the letter-numeral “V” which is assigned the value of five for it is the fifth vowel, 
and naturally represents the Quinary. If two of these figures are united, they form 
the Equilateral Cross of the previous theorems, and their combined value also adds 
up to ten, or, if multiplied, 25. If the Roman numeral is squared then it also yields 
the number 25, and the sum of the two squares is fifty. Squaring is certainly part of 
gematria , and to conclude in this vein, Dee noted that the symbol “V” is the fifth 
vowel of the Latin alphabet but also the twentieth letter, which adds up to 25. 
Squared, the Roman numeral X is one hundred. 

The divisions of the Cross are also the Latin letter “L” (tenth letter of the 
alphabet) with the numerical value of fifty, which in the form of the Cross has the 
accumulated sum of one hundred. Now, if the Quinary is multiplied by the Decad, 
its product is fifty, at the basis of the L-shaped Cross. This is proven by the fact that 
the letter “L” is the tenth in the alphabet, also if read back from the letter “X”, 
establishing their equal value, so that the letter “L” can also represent the Denary, as 
it is the tenth letter of the Latin alphabet. If the three Roman numerals are added 
together, as in theorem XVII, they form the Latin word lux , which leads to more 
gematria. I shall illustrate only one possibility, and that is that the L=V x X 
(50=5x10), which in turn is the sum of the name of God, El. El is the name of God 
most cited by Dee throughout his works. The latter is a form of notarikon, where 
one letter, the first, is equal to the sum of the parts of the word. 


154 


K. DE LEON-JONES 


Dee turns the notarikon of the Roman numeral, Latin letter “L”, as the name of 
God El, into temurah. By exchanging El (L) for the first consonant of the 
Tetragrammaton, yod , “V” for the repeated heh and “X” for vav, the Tetra- 
grammaton in Latin letters spells lux. Reuchlin states, in derivation from Yetzirah 
that the Tetragrammaton created Heaven and earth. 24 So from Dee’s El, or the Latin 
letter, light is created light {lux). Furthermore, Psalm 118 is reinterpreted by 
Reuchlin to read “El, the Tetragrammaton, has given us light.” El is one of the most 
powerful names of God: it is added as a suffix to the root base to form the names of 
the angels (Gabriel, Michael, Raziel), imbuing the name with divinity. Thus El is 
the name of power from which all the other names are formed, 25 even the 
Tetragrammaton. 26 It is also one of the two fundamental letters for the Kabbalistic 
Creation, as is clear from the opening verses of Yetzirah. As bet (1) is the first 
letter in Torah, lamed <& is the last. Kabbalistic Creation can be said to go from 
bet to lamed as from alpha to omega. Together, they form the word lev or 

“heart”, whose numerical value is 32 and represents the Kabbalistic 32 paths of 
wisdom contained in the Torah. For this reason, and because the consonants are also 
prepositions, they can be combined with the letters of the Tetragrammaton, and in 
turn “El” or lamed functions as a suffix for the 72 angelic names. The first letter of 
the Tetragrammaton is the tenth consonant of Hebrew, yod and Dee states in the 
Dedication that all the consonants of the Hebrew alphabet derive from yod. 
Furthermore, fTin> is interpreted by Christian Kabbalists as the name of 
Christ. The Christological implications of including the Names of God in the Cross 
of the Monas are obvious, as is the mystical function such a symbol performs. The 
Equilateral or Rectilinear Cross, that contains and repeats the Name El, and 
incorporates the Creative aspect of the divine in the anatomy of the symbol. 

This is clear in Theorem XVII, where the gematria culminates in an illustration 
of the first five Theorems. Dee continues his Kabbalistic computations to produce 
the number 252, derived from all the gematriot (addition, multiplication, etc.) and 
which when written in Roman numerals (CCLII) produces the fundamental 
elements of the Monas: two semi-circles, two straight lines and two intersecting 
lines at a 90° angle. In this context, with the letter-numerals that compose the glyph 
clearly indicated, Theorem XII, with its recombination of the astrological symbols 
based on the circle and lines of the Monas is better understood. As Clulee has 
pointed out, Theorem XII is itself a demonstration of temurah , where the signs of 
the zodiac are derived from the symbol of the Monas. A gematria of the zodiac 
signs is thus possible, revealing all their numerical and proportional affinities, since 
it is evident from the symbols that all the lunar signs and all the solar signs add up 
to the same amount: 252. 28 

In Theorem XVIII the temurah of the planetary symbols and the gematria of 
light come together in the figure of the Egg. Immediately recognizable as an 
allusion to the alchemical opus , the figure is less familiar as a Kabbalistic allusion to 
Creation. For Reuchlin the cosmic egg represents the two Kabbalistic worlds: the 
physical and transcendent. Reuchlin believes that the two worlds are “Tike the white 
of an egg’, the white being inside the shell, which is the firmament, while itself it 
surrounds the yolk.” In this way, from Creation, the intelligible world is bound to 
the archetypal world. 29 In short, even in Kabbalah, the egg contains the cosmos. Dee 


JOHN DEE AND THE KABBALAH 


155 


claims that the preceding theorems demonstrated how the Inferior Astronomy is 
guided by the superior celestial Astronomy. This understanding is brought through 
Kabbalistic illumination, which reveals how the Monas is constructed. By merging 
the Monas glyph with the figure of the Egg, the cosmic structure is included in the 
symbol. It is here, where Dee clearly presents a Ptolemaic planetary order, that the 
absence of the sefirot and of a traditional Kabbalistic cosmology is glaring. Essen¬ 
tially, Dee has no need to employ the cosmology of the sefirot , usually at the heart 
of any traditional Kabbalistic analysis. Their cosmological value, as the mystical 
aspect of the planets, may be well integrated in the planetary signs included in the 
Egg. If the sefirot are to be taken as ten Names of God, then these too are 
incorporated in the hieroglyph of the Monas, under the all powerful names El and 
Tetragrammaton. If anything, Dee considers the sefirot truly numerations, and has 
subsumed them in the anatomy of his Monas, in the letter-numerals that make up the 
glyph, and in their Pythagorean equivalents. The structure of his Theorems elimi¬ 
nates the need for the ten sefirot , or could even replace them as the structure of the 
universe, since they could individually or collectively be interpreted as Pythagorean 
numbers: their unity is already demonstrated in the Decad. Interestingly enough, by 
dealing with numbers, Dee has eliminated the need for contemplating the num¬ 
erations of the Deity in the form of the sefirot , for the theories and numerical ratios 
are encompassed in the actual anatomy of the glyph. He has replaced the cosmo¬ 
logical system with a cosmological symbol. 

However, Dee retains in his Monas the symbols that represent the cosmological 
system of the sefirot , in the form of the Adam Kadmon, to which he refers in 
Theorems XIII and XXII. The Adam Kadmon is the Name of one of the formations 
of the sefirot. In Theorem XIII Dee calls the Monas the Mercury of the 
Philosophers, well known from alchemy, and also the “celebrated microcosm and 
ADAM.” Reuchlin states that there is an Adam for each world, a “heavenly Adam,” 
the ADAM KADMON, “made by his word,” and another, “earthly Adam, fashioned 
from clay by the hand of God.” One is one with God; the second is not only “the 
other one,” but “different”, quite “other” from God. 30 The other Adam is man, as 
God said “let man be the image of this world, hence he is the microcosm.” 31 Both 
represent the infinite celestial world connected with the finite earthly world. Both 
encompass the elements of creation. Like the cosmic egg, the Adam Kadmon 
represents the dimensions of the universe. In essence, the glyph of the Monas is the 
Adam Kadmon, and the sefirot that compose the figure are contained in the dimen¬ 
sions of the symbol. 

Already Pantheus, in his Voarchadumia , had used a form of alchemical 
Kabbalah to create the new Adam, the Mercury of the Philosophers. Dee’s use of 
the term voarchadumia in his Dedication is an evident reference to Pantheus’s text. 
The association of the terra lemnia with the philosophical Hermes, and the red earth 
of the voarh beth adumoth , where from the Hebrew adamah (earth) derives adam 
(man), is an allusion to the Adam Kadmon, the celestial Adam formed by the 
sefirot. Hence, it is the figure that contains all of the divine numerations, the 
macrocosmic or immortal Adam of Theorem XXII, whereas the earthly, mortal 
Adam is the microcosm, often associated with Christ or with a sort of celestial 
golem which contains powers of revelation and creation. The earthly Adam and the 



156 


K. DE LEON-JONES 


golem are both shaped from clay and then animated through language. If the 
celestial Adam, the Adam Kadmon is thought of as a celestial golem , then it is 
animated by emet , by divine Truth. 

Through the complex application of temurah to the structure of the Monas in 
Theorems XXI-XXIV it is evident how Dee manages to liberate himself from the 
sefirot. These final theorems constitute an elaborate example of what Dee also calls 
metathesis (the transposition of sounds or letters) applied to the Pythagorean 
Quaternary. Theorem XXII, dedicated to the symmetry of the hieroglyph, reveals 
the similarity of the structure of the Monas to the structure of the sefirot. By 
geometric calculations on the intersections of the lines and circles of the Monas, 
attributing letters to the connecting points, Dee is essentially interconnecting the 
parts of the Monas as is done to the structure of the Adam Kadmon. By eliminating 
the cosmological structures of the sefirot , Dee has eliminated the elements of the 
traditional Kabbalah that cannot be proven to exist, and absorbed them into 
mathematical theorems that can be proven. This passage into the realm of 
numerations is the passage from the first Monad into all possible Metatheses, which 
Dee reconnects to the temurah , culminating into a sort of final vision of the Monas 
in the final Theorem, replacing the Adam Kadmon or the Apocalyptic vision of God 
the Creator. 

This confirms that the ultimate source of Creation is God, and that what Dee has 
revealed can only be an imitation of the act of Creation. It is also a projection into 
the Adam-Christ of the Christian spirit, so that in the assembly of the Monas, the 
adept is, like the Kabbalist, animating a golem : a pale imitation of the primordial 
creation, where nonetheless the adept approaches God. 

If there has been little evidence found for a satisfactory general Kabbalistic 
interpretation of Dee, the most significant factor is the fact that Dee, as Clulee has 
pointed out, is not a thinker whose texts demonstrate an easy and consistent line of 
thought. This is the case with his use of Kabbalah, which is negligible in some of 
his texts, but a substantial component in others. Although there are elements of the 
Kabbalah in many of Dee’s writings, often these are unoriginal aspects of limited 
significance in the overall context of the work, for the most part related not to the 
Neo-Pythagorean principles but to angelic communications. Or else, as in the case 
of the seal emet, or the name El, they are fairly derivative although important 
functions in the text. Certainly, the function of the Kabbalah is different in each 
individual text, according to the purpose of the text. Dee’s works span a wide range 
of subjects and interests, and hence of method and interpretation. Their originality is 
increased by the syncretic context of Dee’s intellectual background. Only the Monas 
Hieroglyphica exemplifies Dee’s creative and innovative use of the Kabbalah. 



JOHN DEE AND THE KABBALAH 


157 


CONCLUSION 

In the end, the important question is not so much whether or not Dee is a Kabbalist, 
but what the function of his new mathematical Kabbalah is. In the well-established 
Humanist tradition of Christian Kabbalah, the purpose of its study was the 
recuperation of ancient knowledge to establish a universal Truth. Thinkers like Pico 
(who deemed himself a Kabbalist) had a religious agenda: to demonstrate the 
universal truth of Christianity via the Kabbalah, based on Christological 
interpretations of the texts, often with the aim of utilizing the Kabbalah to convert 
Jews. Later thinkers saw within it a system compatible with other philosophical and 
even scientific systems then in vogue, that by the mid-sixteenth-century attracted a 
certain amount of experimentation by intellectuals of Dee’s calibre: a contemporary 
example would be Giordano Bruno, who combined Kabbalistic mystical revelations 
with Copernicanism to develop his own Nolan philosophy. 32 Dee is neither a 
Humanist like Ficino, interested in recuperating ancient texts, nor a Hebraist and 
Kabbalist like Reuchlin, nor is he concerned with the philological aspects of the 
Kabbalah. Reuchlin argues that the Kabbalah is the source of salvation, and that a 
Kabbalist is one who studies it to redeem himself and the human race. With the 
dominion of Protestantism in England, the establishment of a universal religion is of 
less concern to Dee than it was to Pico or even Bruno, and the conversion of Jews is 
not a relevant concern. In the Monas Hieroglyphica Dee is concerned with a 
different sort of revelation, that of a new form of numerical revelation that is closer 
to Cartesian than traditional Jewish Kabbalistic thought; indeed, it anticipates some¬ 
what the later interest of mathematicians like Leibniz. 33 Even taking into account the 
final vision offered in the Monas , the exaltation is ultimately that of the indis¬ 
putability of Dee’s proofs, mystically inspired perhaps, but mathematically exact. It 
is an application of Kabbalah which predates the development of scientific method, 
of “objective” scientific proof. Dee’s Kabbalah helps usher in a new era, marked by 
thinkers like Bruno, Robert Fludd, Leibniz and Isaac Newton: the modem, para¬ 
doxical era of scientific discovery never far removed from theological confirmation. 
Much research remains to be done to fulfil the plea made by Yates in the epilogue of 
The Occult Philosophy for scholars to pursue the study of the importance of the 
Kabbalah in the development of Christian thought. 


NOTES 


1 For a good summary of the arguments, see the various chapters dedicated to the subject in Richard 
Popkin and Gordon Weiner, eds., Jewish Christians and Christian Jews: From the Renaissance to the 
Enlightenment (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994). 

2 Moshe Idel, Kahhalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988); David Ruderman, 
Kabbalah, Magic and Science: The Cultural Universe of a Sixteenth-Century Jewish Physician (Cam¬ 
bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988). See also David Ruderman, ed., Essential Papers on 
Jewish Culture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy (New York: New York University Press, 1992). 

3 Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy (London: Ark Paperbacks, 1979). She discusses Dee at least in 
passing in nearly all of her numerous works. 

4 R&W, 28-29. 

5 The text was already in a written version in 1510, but went unpublished until 1533. For a detailed 
discussion of the textual history, see Paola Zambelli’s L'ambigua natura della magia: filosofi, streghe, 



158 


K. DE LEON-JONES 


riti nel Rinascimento (Milano : II Saggiatore, 1991) as well as her numerous articles on Agrippa that 
heavily influenced Yates and are contained in the bibliographical references of Occult Philosophy and 
other works. Agrippa probably knew Reuchlin’s earlier Kabbalistic work, De verbo mirifico (1494), 
directly inspired by a meeting with Pico: it is one of the books listed in Dee’s library inventory, heavily 
annotated by him. 

6 Frances Yates thought of the Monas as a “cabalist mathematical alchemy,” and conceived of the glyph 
as an amulet. Michael T. Walton also interprets it as an alphabet of nature, based on the Kabbalah. See 
NP, 78 for a brief summary of the different interpretations of the text. 

7 See Chaim Wirzubski, Pico della Mirandola’s Encounter with Jewish Mysticism (Cambridge: Harvard 
University Press, 1989). 

8 An excellent starting point for the historical background is Cecil Roth, The Jews in the Renaissance 
(Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1959); tempered by the more recent work of 
Robert Bonfil, Jewish Life in Renaissance Italy , trans. Anthony Oldcom (Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1994). Bonfil argues against the importance of the proliferation of Kabbalah. 

9 Johann Reuchlin, De arte cabalistica (New York: Abaris Books, 1983), 39. 

10 Yates and Zambelli would disagree, but Agrippa’s mathematical abilities must have seemed extremely 
limited to Dee. 

11 Reuchlin, 43. 

12 Reuchlin, 43. 

13 Reuchlin, 63. The Latin terms inserted into the citation are from the original text. 

14 David Werner Amram, The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy: being chapters in the history of the 
Hebrew printing press (London: Holland Press, 1963). 

15 See Karen de Leon-Jones, Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalah: Prophets, Magicians and Rabbis (New 
Haven: Yale University Press, 1997). 

16 Reuchlin, 45. 

17 Reuchlin, 55. 
n MH, 113-114. 

19 NP, 77. 

20 Reuchlin, 219. 

21 Bet is interestingly enough written as a half circle and line in Hebrew, which traditionally leads to a 
long explanation on the formation of the letters. Dee complains in the text of the Monas Hieroglyphica 
how there is little on the history of the formation of the letter in Hebrew, and I think here he is recreating 
and reinterpreting the explanation of bet in terms of the basis of the hieroglyph of the Monas, to demo¬ 
nstrate how the real Kabbalah distinguishes itself from the mere description of common language to the 
true event of Creation, for Dee in the form of geometrical gematria. The act of writing the letter, bet, 
would proceed from the point, formed from the initial contact of pen on paper, and developed into a half 
circle, with a line underneath. Dee himself even indulges in the common Kabbalistic explanation for why 
the second letter of the alphabet, bet, and not the first aleph is used in creation, by adding it later in 
theorem XV, as we shall see. So the line and circle are the basis of the glyph and of creation. 

22 Reuchlin, 155. 

23 NP, 83. 

24 Reuchlin, 303. 

25 Reuchlin, 305. 

26 Reuchlin, 303. 

27 By the way, the consonant bet has two pronunciations, a guttural and a palatal, which explains why 
“heart” is pronounced with a final “v”. I do not believe Dee thought of this, but that would make the first 
and last letters of Creation in Torah the letters that make up his Monas: “L” and “V”, even including the 
LVX they equal. 

28 Since the lunar signs are composed from only one semicircle, hence excluding one Roman numeral C, 
they total 152. They remain within a proportional ratio to the other, solar signs, since they still contain 
the essential numbers. One hundred is of course one of the ratios of the alchemical opus. 

29 Reuchlin, 101. 

30 Reuchlin, 71 

31 Reuchlin, 211. 

32 See de Leon-Jones, Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalah. 

33 See Allison Coudert, Leibniz and the Kabbalah (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995). 



FEDERICO CAVALLARO 


THE ALCHEMICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF JOHN DEE’S 
MONAS HIER OGL YPHICA * 


Throughout his career John Dee had an abiding interest in alchemy. As a renaissance 
scientist he developed this interest in the alchemical tradition descended from the 
Alexandrines into a philosophy of nature that included laboratory practice. In the 
Monas Hieroglyphica (1564) he distinguished his own scholarly endeavours from 
the general mass of practitioners who had discredited the name of “alchymia”, and 
for this reason he preferred to use the terms “voarchadumia”, “mechanical magic” or 
“Real Cabala” to refer to his own work. The term “voarchadumia” was coined by 
the Venetian alchemist Johannes Pantheus, whose work was known to Dee and is 
known to have been one of the sources for the Monas Hieroglyphica. 1 Dee saw the 
alchemical enterprise as a task for an alchemist/”hero” who “understands the 
supercelestial virtues”. 2 Contemporary commentators of the Monas Hieroglyphica 
clearly had no doubts that its primary focus was alchemy, 3 and Dee’s continual 
pursuit of alchemical revelations seems to support this interpretation. Long after the 
publication of the Monas Hieroglyphica Dee continued his alchemical researches, 
even while he was engaged in the “angelic” revelations of 1582-9, during which 
(together with his “skryer” Edward Kelley), he sought immediate divine knowledge 
of “nature’s secrets”. 4 In the angelic revelations Dee was inspired by references to 
invocations in the ancient Greek alchemists. In the Monas , however, he was 
influenced by “natural magic” which works its miracles in the laboratory through 
the power of “philosophical mercury”, which reigns both in “superior” and 
“inferior” astronomy (as Dee calls them): that is, both heavenly Mercury (i.e. 
spiritus mundi) and the mineral Mercury. In the preface to the work, Dee clearly 
states that he is seeking the “fundamental truths of natural science” the 
“explanations of [...] celestial influences and events”, and “supercelestial virtues and 
metaphysical influences”. 5 Only the “singular hero”, he says, is capable of 
understanding these things. He contrasts the “astronomical characters” that represent 
the planets with his own mystical symbols “imbued with immortal life”, which 
would be understandable “in any tongue and in any nation”. 6 From the symbol of 
Mercury, which forms the basic structure of the hieroglyphic monad, Dee derives all 
the other planetary symbols as well as the origin of the Greek, Hebrew and Latin 
alphabets, numbers, and even geometry. 7 [Plate 4] The Geometer who reads the 
Monas Hieroglyphica , Dee says, will discover in it something akin to the quadrature 
of the circle, 8 although it seems likely that he is referring here to an obscure 
alchemical allegory rather than to a geometrical demonstration. Michael Maier, in 


* This chapter was translated from the Italian by Stephen Clucas, with the kind assistance of J.V. Field. 
For the purposes of this volume the author’s citations of Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica have been referred 
to the standard English translation by C. H. Josten. 

159 

S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, 159-176. 

© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



160 


F. CAVALLARO 



Plate 4: The geometrical construction of Dee’s ‘Hieroglyphic Monad’, Monas 
Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564), p. 24 r . Reproduced from the facsimile edition of 
C.H. Josten, courtesy of Ambix. 


DEE’S MONASHIEROGLYPHICA 


161 


his extensive collection of alchemical symbols, the Atalanta fugiens (1617), states 
(in Emblem XXI) that the circle is the simplest substance and the square is the four 
elements which are also represented by the four colours during the alchemical 
“work”. 9 Hence Dee’s statement that the circle transforms itself into a square 
signifies the alchemical passage of the mineral into a perfected, purified substance 
which manifests itself successively in the seven phases (and four colours) commonly 
described by alchemical authors. 

The musician, he says, will be “struck with wonder” by the “inexplicable 
celestial harmonies” 10 which are represented in the alchemical work, a reference to 
the idea of alchemy as an “art of music”, in so far as it involves an understanding of 
the harmonic proportions between the weights of materials and durations of 
processes. The “music” also refers to certain sounds said to be heard during the final 
stages of heating. The astronomer, he says, will be able to observe the motions of the 
planets without getting cold. He refers here to the various stages of the matter as it is 
heated, stages that derived their names from the seven planets. 

Just as the optical practitioner creates, by means of a conic section, a mirror 
which when placed in the sun’s rays bums certain substances, so the alchemist 
makes a trigonal section of a tetrahedron to make a three-dimensional mirror which 
“can reduce any stones or any metal to, as it were, impalpable powders by the force 
of [...] heat”, without the aid of the sun. 11 This allegory refers to the power of the 
Mercury that forms the basis of the symbol of the Monas, which is represented here 
by the mirror. Mercury is the primary purified mineral used in the alchemical opus 
or work. In a subsequent phase, in which it becomes “Alkahest” or a “universal 
solvent”, Mercury (antimonite) is called “philosophical Mercury” by some 
alchemical authors. 12 The triangle refers to the fundamental alchemical Ternary or 
triad of sulphur, salt and mercury, which are to be understood as essential principles 
and not to be confused with the everyday substances that bear the same names. 
Those who work and reflect on “the subtle investigation of weights”, Dee says, will 
see that “the element of earth can float above water”. 13 He refers here to the relative 
quantities of the various alchemical substances, and the proportions between them, 
and to the condensation of liquid on the surface of the heated substance which 
resembles a floating island. Maier and others refer to this as “the island of Delos”, 
where Latona gave birth to Diana and Apollo, or the lunar and solar principles. 14 

Dee calls these symbolic games which are applied to physical reality “Real 
Cabala”. He says that the hieroglyphic monad conceals a “terrestrial body” in its 
“innermost centre”, which must be united with solar and lunar influences. This 
union or “marriage” is the terrestrial sign of a union of cosmic influences, because 
the monad cannot be “fed” or “watered” on earth until the “fourth [...] metaphysical 
revolution” has been completed. 15 Once this union has been effected, he says, the 
operator will “go away into a metamorphosis” and will “afterwards very rarely be 
seen by mortal eyes”. 16 A few pages later Dee insists on the necessity of assimilating 
the product obtained by means of this process in such a way that the alchemical 
operator himself will be “dignified”. 



162 


F. CAVALLARO 


An explanation of this obscure passage is that the hidden body in the innermost 
centre is the Philosophers’ Stone, which lies hidden in primal matter. During the 
course of the work it is strengthened by the divine powers or influences - that is, by 
the energies emanating from the Sun and Moon. A brief seventeenth-century treatise 
entitled The Centre of Nature Concentrated, or The Regenerated Salt of Nature 
commonly called the Philosophers ’ Stone , sheds some light on the significance of 
the metamorphosis of the Monas-Stone. 17 The earth or Salt increases in power 
through what alchemists call “multiplication”. Dee refers to four of these multi¬ 
plications in the text of the Monas Hieroglyphica. Essentially, the process of placing 
the Philosophers’ Stone in a crucible together with a quantity of Philosophical Mer¬ 
cury, or “alkahest”, on four separate occasions is meant to enhance the Stone’s 
powers. Whoever was “fed” by the stone would attain such an intense 
spiritualization of their body that they would become invisible. 

The Stone has other explicitly stated properties that Dee is interested in. He 
claims that those familiar with the Philosophers’ Stone may observe through a thin, 
transparent sheet all the things contained underground and in the waters of the earth. 
In this “carbuncle or Adam’s stone” the adept would be able to explore the airy and 
fiery regions. The most likely explanation of this passage has again to do with 
alchemical experimentation in the laboratory. By placing a thin sheet of mica on the 
crucible during the work, the alchemist may observe the transformation of the 
materials as they are subjected to the fire. 18 This transformation is identical to that 
experienced by the minerals in the entrails of the earth. In short, all the four 
principal elements may be observed, and the carbuncle is the final Red Stone of the 
alchemical opus. 

In order to put these rather obscure and oblique alchemical references into a 
larger context it is necessary to briefly analyse the twenty-four theorems found in 
the second part of the Monas Hieroglyphica in an alchemical perspective. The first 
four theorems deal with the most abstract concepts: the point, the line, and the circle. 
Dee claims that all things are created from the point: thus the Monas symbol 
contains a circle with a central point that represents the earth, as well as containing 
the symbols of the sun and the moon. 19 [Plate 5] This initial point of creation (earth) 
represents the beginning of the alchemical opus. Maier seems to corroborate this 
interpretation when he states that the point from which the line originates is sulphur, 
and goes on to say (in words which are reminiscent of Dee’s) that the innermost 
centre of the terrestrial body or mineral is formed by the principle of sulphur. 20 This 
particular mineral (antimonite) used by the alchemists, is the progenitor of metals, 
and when the sulphur principle contained in it is strengthened and stimulated, any 
metal has the potential to be transformed into gold. The theorems continue with the 
central cruciform section of the Monas. In theorem VI Dee equates this cross with 
the Pythagorean Ternary, which in turn becomes the Quaternary, and the Octonary. 21 
The ancient alchemists considered the “magic” Ternary to be the triad of body, spirit 
and soul ( corpus , spiritus, anima ): this is valid for the Quaternary and the Septenary 
as well. Dee is most likely referring here to Ostanes, an author he refers to later in 
the text. Ostanes explicitly referred to the Ternary allegory of the “vital spirit” and 
the “soul” which are needed to enrich the “body” of the mineral stone. 22 This kind of 




164 


F. CAVALLARO 


terminology has led to serious confusions in modern interpretations of these kinds of 
texts. The “body” is, of course, the mineral and the materials which the alchemist 
begins with; the “spirit” and the “soul” are the sulphur and mercury which these 
materials contain. Dee’s contemporary Paracelsus preferred to speak of “salt” rather 
than “body”. The “Septenary” which Dee refers to are the seven types of metal 
generated by the Elements and the Ternary. In Theorem VII, Dee says that the four 
elements must be drawn out of their “natural habitations” and compares the geo¬ 
metrical line which is composed of flowing points to the physical “line” of droplets 
(. Lineae, ex STILLAE) which rain down during “mechanical magic”. 23 The “natural 
habitations” of the elements refers to composed bodies in general and specifically to 
the minerals used in the alchemical opus , as is clear from ancient and mediaeval 
alchemical theories. According to Maier, who follows these earlier theories, during 
the “cooking” ( coctio ) the alchemical egg is formed and the four elements are 
liberated in order: Water, Air, Fire, Earth. 24 This is the sequence of states in which 
we see the materials during the alchemical process: first liquid, then gaseous, then in 
a red-hot molten state before they re-solidify into the Philosophers’ Stone. Theorem 
VIII also refers to the elements and metals. The twenty-first letter of the Roman 
alphabet “X”, Dee says, is the sign of the “Denary” which is produced by the 
Pythagorean Quaternary (1+ 2 + 3 + 4=10) which is the union of the Ternary (1 + 
2) and the Septenary (3 + 4) as well as the four initial lines that form the cruciform 
mid-section of the Monas. This alludes to union of the Ternary (salt, sulphur and 
mercury), the Quaternary (the elements) and the Septenary (the seven metals) in the 
alchemical opus. 

In Theorem IX, Dee says that through the “magic of the [...] four elements” the 
four lines of the Monas are separated and made into a circle which is the conjunction 
and completion of the solar circle which forms part of the Monad symbol. 25 This 
separation and conjunction refers to the “solve et coagula” of the alchemists, which 
refers to the whole alchemical process, but especially to the final separation of the 
four elements and their re-conjunction in the Philosophers’ Stone. This process is 
often represented as a circle, or by the ancient cosmic symbol of the ouroburos, the 
snake biting its own tail. The zodiacal division of Aries, he says in Theorem X, is 
the place in the heavens from which the “fiery triplicity” originates. “In the practice 
of this monad the aid of fire is required”, Dee says, and it is fire which will effect the 
separation of the elements, “in which the denarian proportion will be strong”. 26 The 
astrological sign of Aries here signifies the vernal fire, that is, the celestial, cosmic 
or solar fire. In 1758 the erudite alchemist Pernety reiterated Dee’s theorem, 
claiming that the celestial fire was the principle of two other fires: the “terrestrial” or 
“central” fire, and “artificial” fire. The first, the terrestrial fire is innate in terrestrial 
bodies, and is stimulated by celestial bodies. The second, artificial, fire is kindled by 
man to heat bodies from the outside. 27 In his theorem Dee refers to the fundamental 
operation of the separation of the elements by means of the “fires”. In Theorem XI 
he says that the two semi-circles of the sign of Aries (at the base of the Monad) 
signify that the Earth - the mineral of the opus - must be mixed in equal proportions 
with the celestial fire, just as the day at the equinox is divided into equal proportions 
of light and dark. 28 This signifies that the initial weights of the mineral (which is 
considered in some texts, because of its characteristics to be the natural salt of anti- 



DEE’S MONASHIEROGLYPHICA 


165 


mony), and the celestial fire, must be equal. Naturally the “celestial fire” had to be 
collected in some concrete form, and it was considered to be especially concentrated 
in the springtime, in morning dew. This was another of the “secrets” of the 
alchemists, but we should note that dew was also used in spagyria (chemical 
medicine) and the collection of dew is clearly shown in the engravings of the Mutus 
liber. 29 There are many references to dew in the various alchemical authors, but they 
tended to be more circumspect about revealing the identity of the mineral that was 
used. Dee is quite explicit about the use of dew, and his original frontispiece shows 
the sun and the moon pouring their aqueous humours into two dishes. 30 In Theorem 
XII, Dee shows the figures of three planets which contain the crescent-shaped 
symbol of the moon: that is Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury. Dee says that it is the 
“purest magic spirit [i.e. Mercury]”, rather than the moon itself, which carries out 
the “work of albification”, by impressing the figures into the prepared earth. 31 These 
figures represent the final phases of the opus , the first of the so-called “Kingdoms” 
or “Reigns”, which is associated with the “white” or lunar phase of the work, but 
does not participate in the process which leads to the formation of the “red” or solar 
stone. The pure earth is the primal matter after the necessary preparation in the first 
two phases of the work. It is worth noting that Dee deals with general principles, and 
does not give concrete details of the process, which would seem to indicate that his 
knowledge was more speculative and theoretical than derived from laboratory 
practice. 

In Theorem XIII, Dee analyses those planets whose signs contain the symbol of 
the sun: that is Mars (which also contains the sign of Aries), Venus (which contains 
the cross of the elements), and especially Mercury, the “Philosophical” Mercury, 
which he also calls “microcosm” and “Adam”. The alchemical authors usually 
represent the red stone with the solar symbol, but Dee emphasises the leading role of 
the mercurial rather than the solar aspect, which he calls the “golden work” ( Operi 
XpucroKopaXXivco)} 2 The term derives from Stephanos of Alexandria, and may 
indicate Dee’s preference for the early Greek alchemical tradition. 33 Dee also adds 
that to attain the Adam (or Philosophical Mercury), it is necessary to reunite the soul 
which has been separated from the body in the work. This is done by means of the 
art of fire, he says, which is dangerous because of the “fiery and sulphurous fumes 
which it occasions”. 34 Here the “soul” probably represents the fumes (halitus) or 
mercurial principles of the mineral liberated during the “cooking” process, corres¬ 
ponding to the phases of the metallic “reigns”, which are gradually reabsorbed in a 
natural manner by the mass at the bottom of the crucible. Nonetheless these fumes 
carry the sulphur or the principle of combustion, and this makes the work dangerous 
as they may cause the crucible to explode. When he states, at the end of this 
theorem, that Lucifer or Venus must be united to the Moon or Mercury or Mars to 
make “the Sun of the philosophers” appear, he is referring to the final metallic 
“reigns”, known to the alchemists as Venus, Mars and the Sun. The solar reign ends 
with the “multiplication” of the final Stone, which Dee calls the Monad, or the red 
Adam. 

In Theorem XIV, Dee cites one of the sayings from the Tabula smaragdina 
attributed to Hermes Trismegistus that the father and mother of the Stone are the 
Sun and the Moon, which he says have been “clearly proved” by means of his hiero- 



166 


F. CAVALLARO 


glyphic symbol. To this Dee adds that the “offspring” or Terra Lemnia , mentioned 
in the Theorem, is nourished by solar and lunar rays. 35 Many alchemical texts 
attribute the absorption of solar and lunar influences not only to the dew deposited 
under the sign of Aries, but to the process of the work itself. The Terra Lemnia thus 
refers to the island where Vulcan’s forge was situated, representing the application 
of fire to the alchemical materials. 36 In the following theorem (XV) he deals with the 
times of greatest solar and lunar influence, and therefore the best times of year to 
accomplish the alchemical opus. The “sun’s splendour” is at its height in Aries, and 
the moon’s in Taurus. Therefore the moon has a “prolific conjugal love” for the sun, 
and their union is the alchemical marriage which Ostanes refers to when he says 
“Nature rejoices in Nature”. 37 The changes of season, marked by solar eclipses, are 
the conjunction of the Sun with Mars, with the power of Mars, exalted in the 
astrological house of Aries. The sign of Aries is joined with the elemental cross and 
sign of Taurus in Dee’s symbol of the Monas. This union exalts the Sun and Moon 
by means of the science of the elements. Dee is reiterating a common alchemical 
doctrine that the alchemical work should be undertaken in the spring, when the sun 
is astrologically exalted in Aries and the moon in Taurus, and Mars in the house of 
Aries. Solar eclipses are explained as the eclipse of light by the purified primal 
matter when iron is added to dust in the work. It is necessary to purify the mineral of 
antimony as well, to obtain the famous regulus martis stellatus (“starry regulus of 
mars”) of the alchemists and metallurgists (an idea which recurs later in Newton’s 
alchemical writings). 38 Through “the science of the elements” (by which Dee meant 
alchemy) the Sun and Moon’s exaltations are obtained. 

The elemental cross reappears in theorem XVI as the figure “X”. Dee subjects 
the symbol “X” to a “cabbalistic anatomy” ( notarikon ) in order to obtain the letter 
“V” whose value in the Latin numerical system is five, or the Quinary. 39 In the 
divine name “El” (here written in the Latin alphabet!), Dee finds the letter “L”, tenth 
in the Latin alphabet, and so on. Dee concludes that one may progress from the 
number one to ten to one hundred through his method. 40 Alchemically the Latin “X”, 
or St Andrew’s Cross, is the “manifested light” or spark of the celestial and 
terrestrial fire which “composes or disintegrates, begets or kills” the “superior or 
spiritual force which acts in a mysterious manner within concrete matter”. 41 The 
celestial fire, or “magical spirit” represented by the “X” is qualified by Dee as one of 
God’s “great [...] mysteries”. 42 The number five recalls the Quintessence, or 
synthesis of the four elements, and Dee calls it the Quinarius , or “circular number” 
which refers to the circulation and transformation of elements referred to in earlier 
theorems. The numerical progression from one to ten to one hundred alludes to the 
increase of power in the Philosophers’ Stone during the course of the opus. Dee 
continues his numerical calculations relating to the symbol “X” in the following 
theorem (XVII). By a cabalistic calculation (4x5 + 4x50 + 10 + 21 + 1) Dee 
reaches the total 252, a number which probably represents Mercury. Indeed, if it is 
transformed back into Roman numerals - CCLII - its components can be used to 
assemble the Monas symbol. The three basic Roman letter/number forms, L, V, and 
X, are for Dee the sources of light, since the combination of the three symbols form 
the Latin word lux [i.e. LVX]. 



DEE’S MONASHIEROGLYPHICA 


167 


Theorem XVIII states, in accordance with alchemical teachings, that the superior 
celestial astronomy is the “teacher” of the inferior one. Dee presents an “anatomy” 
of the Monas to reveal its mysteries through physical analysis. The Monas is seen 
here as the “celestial messenger”, whose celestial movements are co-ordinated 
through the figure of the “egg”. 43 Inferior astronomy refers to the alchemical 
material which contains the unaltered planetary virtues that are revealed in the 
various colours and appearances during the transformations in the furnace. This is 
what Dee means by physical analysis. The Monas represents the god Mercury, and 
the Egg is the name given by alchemists to the materials assembled in the last part of 
the alchemical work. According to Dee the oval shell of the Egg is composed of 
ether, like the heavens in the Ptolemaic system. He invites the “wretched 
alchemists” to comprehend the meaning of the albumen’s water, the yolk’s oil and 
the shell’s chalk. The symbol of the Egg is an ancient one in alchemy as an analogy 
for the furnace. 44 In Dee’s “Egg diagram” [Plate 6] the planets are depicted in 
Ptolemaic sequence, with the central planets (Mars, the Sun and Venus) related to 
the final solar phases of the metallic “reigns” in the centre or yolk, and the “lunar” 
planets in the watery albumen. Dee then outlines a fable concerning the scarab 
beetle, the eagle and the egg. This refers to the ascent of vapours in the closed 
crucible towards “heaven”, that is towards a “jovial” material state. To compel these 
vapours to descend, so that they coagulate and form solids is known as the “dung’s 
Art”. Dee also alludes to “the art of the Heliocantharis” or solar beetle, which 
involves drawing out the solar qualities hidden in obscure and stinking matter during 
the phase of Saturn’s “reign”, as is often described in alchemical texts. According to 
Dee the person who knows the art of the beetle may dissolve the egg and the shell 
with pure albumen, by adding the yolk and rotating and mixing them. That is to say, 
the shell of the Philosophers’ egg is formed naturally by salt compounds. 45 The pure 
albumen is the mineral, the purified primal matter or “mercury” which is added 
during the final phase, and mixed with the albumen which is already present. The 
yolk is the sulphurous component which must prevail and transform the egg into 
gold. The spiral revolutions in the crucible follow the sequence of planetary “rulers” 
- that is, Saturn, Jupiter, Moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Sun. In concluding this 
theorem Dee claims that Anaxagoras had attained this magisterium which was an 
excellent medicine (although he is not referring here to Anaxagoras of Clazomene). 46 
Theorem XIX completes the analysis Pyronomica, or separation carried out in the 
“reigns” by the regulation of the fire under the crucible. This theorem states that the 
virtues of the Sun and the Moon are infused into inferior bodies to produce aqueous 
and igneous humours which give the Stone its reddish colour. 47 

Theorem XX returns to the Cross and its intersecting axis. The two axes form a 
binary, which is immediately explained as the Sun and Moon, or Sulphur and Mer¬ 
cury. By dividing the axis in various manners, Dee produces the Ternary (Sulphur 
and Mercury with Salt, or Body). The central point of the cross is the origin of all 
things, but it is also earth (“feculent, corruptible and full of darkness”) which must 
be purified in order to free the elements. 48 The mineral-earth liberates the point- 
monad which allows the Ternary to reunite, clothing it in “the ornaments of white 
garments” like the white stone during the lunar “reign”. 49 The “ratio of equality” 
which Dee mentions refers to the perfect balance of the four elements, which he 



168 


F. CAVALLARO 



Plate 6: The ‘Egg diagram’, Monas Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 1564), p. 17 r . 
Reproduced from the facsimile edition of C. H. Josten, courtesy of Ambix. 



DEE’S MONASHIEROGLYPHICA 


169 


repeatedly emphasises throughout the work. Thus the Monad increases its “dignity” 
and power through the “uncommon activity of a master”. 50 There is little new 
material in this particular theorem, apart from the balance of the elements, which are 
examined not so much in terms of their material weight, as much as the 
developments occurring during the phases of the different “reigns” which manifest 
the dominion of the various elements. Most alchemical authorities suggest that the 
alchemist must intervene at this point, regulating the fire, either increasing or 
decreasing it, so that the substance is neither under- nor over-heated during the 
seven phases, which would require several weeks’ work. 

Theorem XXI also reiterates an earlier theme: he says that he has already shown 
how the substance “enveloped in the recesses of the Monad” could be “brought to 
light” and vice versa. Here Dee alludes to the power of the Sun and the Moon, and 
Sulphur and Mercury, which are contained in the Philosophers’ Stone and mani¬ 
fested in the “planetary” colours. Whereas in Theorem XVIII he followed the 
Ptolemaic planetary order he now considers the order of the planets favoured by 
Plato (which Plato called the “Egyptian order”), beginning with Saturn, and 
followed (in descending order) by Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, the Sun and the 
Moon. 51 The first three are said to congregate around the sign of Aries, while Venus 
and Mercury congregate around the Cross. Dee is most likely referring here to the 
planetary symbols extracted from the Monas symbol when it is disassembled: so that 
the sign of Aries is united with the elemental cross, and the Sun and the Moon are 
separated. Dee invites the reader to observe that when the figure is inverted, the Sun 
and the Moon revolve downwards towards the earth, which (he says) represents the 
principles of “stability” and “fixation”. 52 Evidently Dee is referring here to the 
insertion of the Sun and Moon - by means of the fire of Aries and the elemental fire 
- into the mineral Earth in which they can be “fixed” and utilised. In examining the 
figures of Aries and the cross, Dee says that Aries is a “doubled moon” (i.e. it is 
constructed symbolically out of two semi-circles or lunar “crescents”), or a Moon 
which “exists and is alive”, and is provided with vital movement by the “craft of the 
elements” signified by the cross. The two semi-circles can be assembled into the 
sign of the Sun, and thus the living and existing Moon must be “treated by the 
magisterial art of the elements” because “it possesses the power to manifest the 
circular fullness of the sun”. 53 Dee understands “Moon” here as the lunar “ruler” in 
the process, as well as the primary white mineral, which is called “moon” when it 
has been purified. This is the mineral that is enriched by celestial influences during 
the course of the work. This mineral is also known as “philosophers’ Venus” and 
Dee places it close to Venus in his scheme. The overall meaning of this passage is 
that the power of Aries is solidified in the solar force, and forms the final stone. 
With this Dee ends the “cabbalistic anatomy” of his symbol, and instructs his reader 
to educate himself in “the fire of Aries of the first triplicity” or the “equinoctial fire” 
which causes the sun to be exalted to an uncommon degree. As has already been 
demonstrated, this is the vernal fire of Aries, the “beginning of the fiery triplicity” in 
Theorem X. 54 The fire originates in the Sun which, according to the alchemical 
writers, contains more power than ordinary solar heat. 



170 


F. CAVALLARO 


Theorem XXII focuses on the “secret vessels of the holy art”. 55 Dee begins with 
the “artificial vessel” symbolically derived from the circle of the Monas, or from the 
Sun and Moon that it represents [Plate 7]. He then refers to an “earthen” and a 
“vitreous” vessel (represented by the Greek letters 8 and X respectively, which he 
also compares to a mortar and pestle which can be used to grind pearls, crystals, 
rubies and other stones). 56 The glass vessel is the salty crust that forms as a result of 
the application of fire to the materials in the final cooking. Because this crust is 
formed naturally it is also called “nature’s vessel”. The “vessel of the Art” or 
artificial vessel is the refractory of earth, which contains the glass vessel as the 
mortar contains the pestle. 57 The ground stones represent the various stages or 
colours of the “reigns” undergone by the material through the opus. Dee also refers 
to an “alpha” and an “omega” vessel, 58 which represent the beginning and the end of 
the alchemical process. The alpha is formed by the Sun and the Moon, while the 
omega is “full of mysteries”, although both are formed from base but necessary 
matter. This can only be the alchemists’ Mercury, the basis of the work, the primal 
matter that transforms into the Philosophers’ Stone. The celestial Mercury contains 
the Sun and Moon (as dew’s salt) already contained in the mineral earth. Dee then 
obscurely states that the alpha vessel must be employed by means of “the very secret 
and short art of using the air-shaft [of the vessel]”. 59 This is followed by a sentence 
of garbled Hebrew, which Grillot de Givry translates as “The incorruptible salt in 
which the first principle of things is preserved, in which the vitriol floats after 
dissolution.” 60 This could refer to the “mysterious artifice”, often alluded to in the 
alchemical literature, which is used in the central part of the work to collect the 
vitriol or “green lion”, which is not ordinary vitriol, but a by-product of the 
transformed primal matter. This process is referred to as “the taking of the Island of 
Delos”, the birthplace of Diana and Apollo (or Moon and Sun) in the operations 
called “sublimations”. 61 Dee refers to the omega vase as “a man of all hours” 
(omnium horarum homo ), 62 which is similar in meaning to the “slave” or “mercury 
of all trades” which are the names given by alchemical authors to the purified primal 
matter sometimes added during the course of the work. According to Dee, at this 
point the “fruits of the Hesperian garden” will be seen in the alpha and omega, as in 
a mirror. 63 That is, through the “common Mercury” the alchemist will arrive at the 
mythical golden fruit guarded in the garden of the Hesperides. The phases of the 
metallic “reigns” may be observed during the opus through the mercurial mirror. 
Dee concludes this theorem by citing the praise of Pseudo-Democritus (i.e. Bolos of 
Mendes) for those who thrive on the “fiery strength” (the “heroes” of Dee’s preface) 
- the Greek alchemists who intone hymns for “the healing of the soul and a 
deliverance from all distress”. 64 

Finally, in Theorem XXIII, Dee assembles the graphic symbol of the Monas. 
Returning once more to the four elements, he says that they are found in everything 
which contains the generating principle, and that it is essential when practising the 
Art that the elements should be present in equal proportion. He then tells the reader 
how to construct the Monas, which, he says, can be reproduced on seals or rings. In 
sum, he suggests two units of measure for the radii of the circle, and two units for 
each of the horizontal arms of the cross, with one and three units respectively for the 
upper and lower vertical arms. This gives us an overall height of nine units (“nine 



DEE’S MONASHIEROGLYPHICA 


171 



Plate 7: The ‘artificial vessel’ (Vas artificiale) Monas Hieroglyphica (Antwerp, 
1564), p. 22 r . Reproduced from the facsimile edition of C. H. Josten, courtesy of 
Ambix. 















172 


F. CAVALLARO 


equal parts of the length of our fundamental AB”), which represent the nine 
operations of the Hermetic work. 65 Theoretically these proportions or symmetries 
should be utilised in the alchemical work, and the four equalized elements should 
therefore dominate in turn through the course of the “reigns” in the alchemical pro¬ 
cess. Dee then goes on to make a comparison between the “Pythagorean” 
Quaternary and the four arms of the cross, which represent an “artificial” Quaternary 
(Quaternarii artificialis) which can be subjected to “a peculiar and mystical division 
and computation.” 66 Dee extracts certain numbers, adding, multiplying and 
permutating the alchemical Quaternary in an application of the Hebrew technique of 
the transposition of letters ( tsiruj ). He then constructs a diagram based on the 
Pythagorean Quaternary 1 - 2 - 3 - 4, which is based on the number of units used to 
construct the cross, and he says that this Quaternary can be used to calculate both 
the duration of time and the intensity of “powers and virtues” in the alchemical 
work. 67 Using similar calculations, Dee derives the force of the heat of the fire using 
the progression 10-20- 30-40, which runs parallel with the increasing intensity 
of the “acquired and internal power” that accumulates in a denary proportion (1-10 
- 100). 68 It should be noted, however, that the intensity of the fire is measured in 
relation to an initial temperature which is not stated. The “internal power” refers to 
the anticipated multiplication of power of the Philosophers’ Stone during the various 
stages of the alchemical work. The “analytic weights” (pondera analytica) which 
Dee refers to (designated by the numbers 3 and 4) are related to the Ternary and the 
Quaternary, while the “synthetic weights” {pondera synthetica) - a sequence of ten 
numbers from 13 down to 1 - seem to refer to the decreasing weight of the materials 
which terminates in the monadic unity of the Philosophers’ Stone. 69 The schema 
separates time into the “particular” and the “magisterial”. The first includes the 
seven alchemical operations: Preparation, Putrefaction, Separation, Conjunction, 
Coagulation, Contrition and Imbibition, while the second refers to the “lapidific” 
and “fermentative” phases of the formation of the Philosophers’ Stone, which is 
designated by the number 252 (which, as we have seen represents the final perfected 
Mercury, but could also allude to the number of days needed to complete the Work). 
Dee’s “magisterial time” refers to those final operations which are often briefly 
referred to by alchemical authors as solve et coagula, which makes nine operations 
in total. In the following diagram, the “Horizon TEtemitatis”, 70 [Plate 8] Dee once 
again insists upon the necessity of the successive predominance of the four elements 
in the Work, in the following order: Earth, Water, Air, Fire - whose power must 
increase in a denary proportion: 1 - 10 - 100 - 1000. 71 He also refers to the pro¬ 
gressive development of the “body, soul and spirit” of the minerals represented in 
the traditional colour sequence, from “darkness” (black), to “crystalline” (white) to 
“citron” (yellow), and “anthrax” or the final red carbuncle of the Stone itself. 

Dee then declares that once the monad has been “correctly, wholly, and 
physically restored to itself’, it is “not in the power of nature or of any art to impel it 
more than four times by supercelestial revolutions to make any progressive move¬ 
ment”. 72 Here Dee refers to the four “multiplications” of weight and power which 
(according to alchemical authors) are permitted once the Stone has reached the 
celestial or ethereal level, and has attained its maximum level of creative force. Dee 
ends this theorem with an obscure reference to “four very famous men, philo- 



173 


Atitjqvonmi xtugma^Dtoi- 
pj* t’toporuoiui, tipjjcwu. 


t»> 

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27 r . Reproduced from the facsimile edition of C. H. Josten, courtesy of Ambix. 



174 


DEE’S MONASHIEROGLYPHICA 


sophizing together” ( Quatuor simul [...] Philosophantes Clarissimi Viri), who had 
been “granted [...] power over other creatures and large dominion” by God through 
the “very great wonder” of the Monas. 73 Although it does not seem likely that Dee 
saw himself as one of these favoured operators, it is possible that he might have 
known them. The last Theorem (XXIV) ends by suggesting that the circle of the 
elements (divided into equal proportions in the alchemical work) is analogous to the 
equinoctial circle (the equal proportions of day and night), the metamorphosis and 
metastasis of the Quaternary being defined by the number 24 (4X6). This number 
is related to the four beasts of the apocalypse (“each having six wings”) and to the 
twenty-four “elders” surrounding God in heaven. 74 It should also be noted that six is 
the number of metals excluding gold involved in the alchemical Work, i.e. the 
number of “reigns” of each of the four elements prior to the final “reign of Gold”. 
Thus Dee’s twenty-four theorems taken together are themselves a “cabalistic” pre¬ 
sentation of the Monad. 

While Dee’s alchemical observations might seem far too abstract and “literary” 
to be considered a “theory”, and while he fails to follow a consistent line in his pre¬ 
sentation of the opus , we should remember that these tendencies are present both in 
the ancient alchemical tradition and in the more recent alchemical literature with 
which Dee was intimately acquainted. How much he may actually have practised 
alchemy in the laboratory is difficult to estimate, 75 but his deep familiarity with the 
fundamental principles of alchemy, and his desire to theorise on the process of the 
alchemical opus speak for themselves. 


NOTES 


1 Johannes Augustini Pantheus, Voarchadumia contra alchimiam: ars distincta ab archimia & sophia: 
cum additionibus: proportionibus: numeris: & figuris opportunis (Venice, 1530). Dee’s annotated copy 
of this work is now in the British Library, C.120.b.4 (2). On Pantheus’s influence on Dee’s Monas 
Hieroglyphica, see NP, 101-3. 

2 It is interesting to note that in 1605 the Italian alchemist Cesare della Riviera entitled his own work on 
the subject II mondo magico de gli heroi ( The Magic World of the Heroes). See Cesare della Riviera, II 
mondo magico de gli heroi, ed. J. Evola (Carmagnola: Arthos, 1979). 

3 See NP, 78. 

4 On the alchemical dimensions of the “angelic conversations” see Deborah Harkness, John Dee's Con¬ 
versations with angels : Cabala, alchemy, and the end of nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 1999), 195-214. 

5 MH, 117. 

6 MH, 121. 

I MH, 123, 127. 

8 MH, 129: “by the square mystery of the Hieroglyphic Monad something circular and altogether even[ly 
round] is being conveyed.” 

9 Michael Maier, Atalanta Fugiens, hoc est Emblemata Nova De Secretis Naturae Chymica (Oppenheim, 
1617), ed. and trans. H. M. E. De Jong, Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens: Souces of an Alchemical 
Book of Emblems (Leiden: Brill, 1969), Emblem XXI, 166-169. All subsequent references to Maier are to 
this edition. 

10 MH, 131. 

II MH, 131. 




F. CAVALLARO 


175 


12 See Fulcanelli, Le Mystere des Cathedrales et Tinterpretation esoterique des symboles hermetiques du 
grand oeuvre (Paris: Jean Jacques Pauvert, 1964), Italian trans. II mistero delle cattedrali e I’inter- 
pretazione esoterisca dei simboli ermetici della Grande Opera (Rome: Mediterranee, 1972), 100. 

13 MH, 131. 

14 Maier, Atalanta Fugiens, Discourse XI, 114-115. 

15 MH, 135. 

16 MH, 135, 137. 

17 See J. W. Hamilton Jones, ed., The Epistle of Ali Puli (circa 1700 A.D.) (London: John M. Watkins, 
1951), 133-158. 

18 Atorene, Le laboratoire alchemique (Paris: Guy Tredaniel, Editions De La Maisnie, 1981). 

19 MH, 155, 157. 

20 Maier, Atalanta fugiens, Discourse VI, 82-3. 

2l MH,\51. 

22 On the Ternary of body, soul and spirit (salt, sulphur and mercury), see De Jong’s commentary on 
Hermes Trismegistus’s Tractatus vere Aureus de Lapidis Physici Secreto, in Atalanta Fugiens, 172-3. 
For The Book of Ostanes see Pierre Eugene Marcelin Berthelot, Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, 
publiee sous les auspices du Ministere de Vinstruction publique par M. Berthelot [...] avec la 
collaboration de [...] C. E. Ruelle, 3 vols (Paris, 1887-88), II, 261-2 and III, 250-252. 

23 MH, 159. 

24 Maier, Atalanta Fugiens, Discourse VIII, 95-6. 

25 MH, 159. 

26 MH, 161. 

27 Antoine Joseph Pemety, “Traite de TCEuvre Hermetique ” and “Principes Generaux de Physique, 
Suivant la Philosophie Hermetique ”, in Les Fables Egyptiennes et Grecques Devoilees & reduites au 
meme principe, avec une explication des Hieroglyphes, et de la Guerre de Troye (Paris, 1758), 45-214. 
Italian trans. Trattato dell’opera eremetica (Genoa: Phoenix, 1979), 48. (Cf. Les Fables, 86-7, “Du 
Feu”). 

2% MH, 161. 

29 See Eugene Canseliet, ed., Alchimie et son Livre Muet (Paris: Jean Jacques Pauvert, 1967), plates 4, 9, 
12 and the relevant commentaries. 

30 See Frances A. Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London: Routledge Kegan and 
Paul, 1979), Plate 10. 

31 MH, 163. 

32 MH, 163, 165. 

33 See Jack Lindsay, The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt (London: F. Muller, 1970), 382-3. 

34 MH, 165. 

35 MH, 165, 167. 

36 MH, 167, n.55. 

37 Lindsay, Origins, 115, MH, 167, n.58. 

38 See Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy, or “The Hunting of the Greene 
Lyon” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 146-156. Cf. Atorene, Laboratoire Alchimique, 
207. 

39 On Dee’s use of cabalistic analytical and exegetical techniques in the Monas Hieroglyphica, see NP, 
92-5. 

40 MH, 169, 171, 173. 

41 See Fulcanelli, Les Demeures Philosophales et le Symbolisme Hermetique dans sens Rapports avec 
L’Art Sacre et L'esoterisme du Grand-oeuvre, 2 vols (Paris: Jean Jacques Pauvert, 1965), Italian 
translation: Le Dimore Filosofali: Un labirinto in cui sono sparsi i frammenti di un grandioso disegno 
alchemico, 2 vols (Rome: Mediterranee, 1973), I, 199-204. 

42 MH, 171: “O my God, how great are these mysteries!” 

43 MH, 175, 111. On Dee’s use of the “egg” symbol and its cosmological significance, see J. Peter 
Zetterberg, “Hermetic geocentricity: John Dee’s celestial egg,” Isis, 70 (1979): 385-393. 

44 Eugene Canseliet, L’Alchimie expliquee sur ses Textes Classiques (Paris: Jean Jacques Pauvert, 1978), 
Italian translation: L’Alchimia spiegata sui suoi testi classici. (Rome: Mediterranee, 1972), 150. 

45 Canseliet, L ’Alchimia spiegata, 151. 



176 


DEE’S MONASHIEROGLYPHICA 


46 MH, 179 and n.81: “It was surely through this doctrine that Anaxagoras afterwards came to make his 
most excellent medicine, as may be read in his treatise 7i£pi xcov CKrrxpo^ov ^octiktov.” 

41 MH, 181. 

48 MH, 183, 185. 

49 MH, 185. 

50 MH, 187. 

51 MH, 187, see also n.92. 

52 MH, 189. 

53 MH, 191. 

54 For a fuller exposition of the “vernal” or “equinoctial” fire, see Pemety, Trattato dell’opera eremetica, 
89 et seq. (Cf. Les Fables, 166-172 “Du feu en general” and “Du feu Philosophique”). 

55 MH, 195. 

56 MH, 197. 

57 See Fulcanelli, II mistero delle cattedrali, 149 et seq.; Canseliet, L’Alchimie expliquee, 151; Pernety, 
Trattato, 87 (cf. Les Fables, 163, “Noms donnes a ce vase par les Anciens”). 

5 *MH, 195, 197. 

59 MH, 197. 

60 See Grillot de Givry, trans., La Monade Hieroglyphique (Milan: Sebastiani, 1975). Both Josten and 
Gershom Scholem pronounced this passage to be untranslatable. See MH, 197, n.l 12. 

61 Fulcanelli, Le dimore filosofali, I, 199-204. 

62 MH, 197. 

63 MH, 199. 

64 MH, 199, 201 and n.l 16. 

65 MH, 201, 203, 205. See Fulcanelli, II mistero delle cattedrali, 74. 

66 MH, 207, 209. 

61 MH, 211. 

68 MH, 213. 

69 MH, 213. 

70 MH, 214. On Dee’s “Horizon TEternitatis”, see Nicholas H. Clulee, “John Dee and the Paracelsians” in 
Allen Debus and Michael T. Walton, eds., Reading the Book of Nature: The Other Side of the Scientific 
Revolution, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, 41 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Sixteenth Century Journal 
Publishers, 1998), 111-132 (117-119). 

71 On the use of the denary proportion in the alchemical process see De Jong’s comments in Atalanta 
Fugiens, 172-3. 

12 MH, 215. 

73 MH, 217. 

74 MH, 217. 

75 For evidence of Dee’s practical alchemical work, and an analysis of some of his laboratory notebooks 
see Urszula Szulakowska, John Dee and European Alchemy, The Durham Thomas Harriot Seminar, 
Occasional Paper No. 21 (Durham: University of Durham, 1996), 14-17. 



J. REEDS 


JOHN DEE AND THE MAGIC TABLES IN THE 
BOOK OF SOYGA 


“Oh, my great and long desyre hath byn to be hable to read those tables of Soyga”. - 
(John Dee). 1 


1. JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 

Until recently the Book of Soyga was known only by repute, through mention in the 
diaries of John Dee (1527-1608). Dee’s association with the Book of Soyga is 
conveniently summarised by Christopher Whitby: 2 On 18 April 1583 Dee was 
unable to find his Book of Soyga : it had been mislaid. On 29 April 1583 Dee 
remembered a detail about the missing book: “E[dward] K[elley] and I wer talking 
of my boke Soyga, or Aldaraia and I at length sayd that, (as far as I did remember) 
Zadzaczadlin, was Adam by the Alphabet therof.” On 19 November 1595 Dee 
recovered his Book of Soyga. Many years later Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) reported 
that “the Duke of Lauderdale hath a folio MS. which was Dr. Dee’s with the words 
on the first page: Aldaraia sive Soyga vocor”. 

In addition to these unremarkable appearances of the Book of Soyga in Dee’s 
nachlafi - unremarkable, for who does not sometimes mislay and later recover a 
valued book? - there is the singular exchange held between Dee and the angel Uriel 
on the occasion of their first conversation, at Mortlake on Saturday, 10 March 
1581/1582, the very first scrying session mediated by Dee’s most famous scryer, 
Edward Kelley (1555-C.1595), also known as Kelly and Talbot. 3 In the following, A 
is Dee, VR is Uriel: 

A - ys my boke, of Soyga, of any excellency? 

VR - Liber ille, erat Ada[m]e in Paradiso reuelatus, per Angelos Dei bonos. [That book 
was revealed to Adam in Paradise by God’s good angels.] 

A - Will you give me any instructions, how I may read those Tables of Soyga? 

VR - I can - But solus Michael illius libri est interpretator. [Only Michael is the 
interpreter of that book.] 

A -1 was told, that after I could read that boke, I shold hue but two yeres and a half. 

VR - Thow shallt liue an Hundred and od yeres. 

A - What may I, or must I do, to haue the sight, and presence, of Michael, that blessed 
Angel? 

VR - Presentias n[ost]ras postulate et invocate, sinceritate et humilitate. Et Anchor, 
Anachor, et Anilos, non sunt in hunc lapidem invocandi. [Request and invoke our 
presence with sincerity and humility. Anchor, Anachor and Ani los are not to be called 
into this stone.] 


177 

S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, 177-204. 
© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



178 


J. REEDS 


A - Oh, my great and long desyre hath byn to be hable to read those tables of Soyga. 

VR - Haec maxime respiciunt Michaelem. Michael est Angelus, qui illuminat gressus 
tuos. Et haec revelantur in virtute et veritate non vi. [These things are mostly to do with 
Michael. Michael is the angel who illuminates your steps. And these things are revealed 
in virtue and truth and not by force.] 

A - Is there any speciall tyme, or howre to be observed, to deale for the enioying of 
Michael? 

VR - Omnis hora, est hora nobis. [Every hour is ours.] 4 

To summarize: Uriel confirms Dee’s high estimation of the Book of Soyga’s 
value. Dee wants angelic help in understanding his Book of Soyga , but only the 
angel Michael is cleared to talk about this topic. If, as some scholars believe, Kelley 
was a charlatan, then here we find him (in the voice of Uriel) being characteristically 
evasive. As a newcomer to Dee’s household he does not want to commit himself to 
any more specific statements about the Book of Soyga , about which he knows very 
little beyond the fact that it fascinates Dee. 5 

There things rested for roughly four centuries. Dee prized his Book of Soyga , but 
since the book was lost, modem scholars could only guess about its contents and 
possible influence on Dee’s magic system, especially for the version in his Book of 
Enoch. 6 

But then in 1994 Deborah Harkness - like the hero of Poe’s “The Purloined 
Letter” - located not one but two copies in the obvious places, in this case in two of 
England’s greatest libraries. They had been catalogued under the title Aldaraia 
instead of Soyga. 1 

At last we can examine the Book of Soyga , and in particular its tables, and see 
for ourselves what it was that Dee prized so highly. 

The Book of Soyga is an anonymous late-mediaeval or early modern Latin 
magical work extant in two sixteenth-century manuscript copies: one in the Bodleian 
Library, which I refer to as Bodley 908, and the other in the British Library, which I 
refer to as Sloane 8. 8 Since there is as yet no edition or translation of either of the 
two manuscripts for me to refer to, nor even a synopsis of their contents, I offer the 
following brief description. 9 

The Sloane 8 copy (but not the Bodley 908 one) bears the title Aldaraia sive 
Soyga vocor at the head of the text and on the leaf preceding the text, both in the 
same hand as the text, fitting Ashmole’s description. Sloane 8’s preceding leaf also 
bears the description Tractatus Astrologico Magicus , written in a different hand. 
Both copies contain the equation of “Adam” with “Zadzaczadlin”, so there can be no 
doubt that Harkness’s Book of Soyga is closely related to Dee’s Book of Soyga; on 
Ashmole’s Aldaraia sive Soyga vocor evidence, and based on the arguments I 
present at the end of section 5, it is easy to guess that Sloane 8 was in fact Dee’s 
copy of the Book of Soyga. 10 

The 197 leaves of Bodley 908 contain three named works, Liber Aldaraia, Liber 
Radiorum , and Liber decimus septimus (of 95, 65, and 2 leaves, respectively) as well 
as a number of shorter unnamed works totalling about 10 leaves. The final 18 leaves 



JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


179 


contain the tables that are the subject of this paper. Sloane 8 has 147 leaves, and 
seems largely identical with Bodley 908, except that the tables occupy 36 leaves and 
the Liber Radiorum is present only in a 2 leaf truncated “executive summary” 
version. 

A cursory inspection of the Book of Soyga shows it is concerned with astrology 
and demonology, with long lists of conjunctions, lunar mansions, names and 
genealogies of angels, and invocations, not much different from those found, say, in 
pseudo-Agrippa. 11 A single example, of a list of spirits of the air, is illustrative of the 
whole: 


Adracty, Adaci, Adai, Teroccot, Terocot, Tercot, Herm, Hermzm, Hermzisco, Cotzi, 

Cotzizi, Cotzizizin, Zinzicon, Ginzecohon, Ginchecon, Saradon, Sardon, Sardeon, 
Belzebuc, Belzscup, Belcupe, Saraduc, Sarcud, Care, Sathanas, Satnas, Sacsan, 

Contion, Conoi, Conoison, Satnei, Sapnn, Sappi, Danarcas, Dancas, Dancasnar. 12 

Some of the spells or incantations have a vaguely Christian or alchemical air to 
them, as “Petra Ouis Angelus Agnus Lapis Sponsus” and “Diuinitas Christus 
Venturus Iustorum Humanitatis Vnitas”, 13 but the overall impression is that it is no 
more an alchemical treatise than it is a devotional work. 

Several features of the Book of Soyga seem worth particular mention, as being 
untypical of a standard late mediaeval or Renaissance magical work, or of the run- 
of-the-mill necromancy handbook. 14 In contrast to most mediaeval or Renaissance 
works, the text has extremely few references to known authors or personalities. 
There are no recognizable auctores. Other than the occasional mention of a few Old 
Testament names, and two references to Libro Geber , and a puzzling marginal gloss 
“Steganographia” in the same hand as the text, which is presumably a reference to 
the work of Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516), there are no references to recog¬ 
nizable personalities. 15 

Instead, it makes numerous references to what are presumably mediaeval 
magical treatises, works such as liber E, liber Os , liber dignus, liber Sipal, liber 
Munob , and the like. 

Throughout the book much importance is placed on writing words backwards. 
This can be seen in some of the titles mentioned above: Sipal backwards is Lapis , 
and Munob reversed is Bonum. Phrases such as “Retap Retson” occur throughout. 
This principle is reflected in the form of the tables, as discussed below. The name of 
the work, Soyga , is itself explained to be “Agyos, literis transvectis”. 16 

Throughout the book there is a preoccupation with letters and combinations of 
letters, assignments of numerical values to letters, assigning letters to planets and to 
elements, listing combinations of letters associated with houses of the moon, 
recombining letters and syllables in incantations to form new magic words, listing 
new names for the 23 letters of the Latin alphabet, sometimes taken in reversed Z 
through A order, listing new symbols for the 23 letters, and so on. 

And, towards the end of the book there is the set of thirty-six large square tables, 
described in section 2 of this paper, filled with a seemingly random jumble of letters. 



180 


J. REEDS 


(One of these is illustrated in Plates 9 and 10.) These tables do not appear to be like 
any illustrated in, say, Shumaker’s survey of mediaeval and early modem magic 
works. 17 

The Book of Soyga's preoccupation with letters, alphabet arithmetic, Hebrew- 
like backwards writing, and so on, is of course characteristic of the new Cabalistic 
magic which became popular in the sixteenth century, exemplified by the great 
compilation of Agrippa of Nettesheim (1486-1535), and borrowing authority both 
from the Renaissance humanist interest in the Cabala expressed by such figures as 
Pico and Reuchlin and from the supposed Biblical antiquity of the Cabala. 18 
Although large square tables are not themselves a characteristic feature of the 
traditional Cabala, they had by Agrippa’s time become an integral part of the 
Christian magical Cabala. 19 

Such a work must have appealed to Dee since it encompassed so many of the 
ingredients associated with early modern magical and Christian Cabalist texts; we 
know the tables in the Book of Soyga excited John Dee’s interest, as seen in the 
dialogue with Uriel. They certainly also excited mine as a professional cryptologist. 
Were they, I wondered, filled with a random (and hence pointless) selection of 
letters, or were they a cryptogram (with a hidden “plain text” meaning, which might 
at least in principle be recoverable by cryptanalysis), or was there some other 
stmcture or pattern to them? I approached the tables as I would any cryptographic 
problem, first transcribing the data and entering it into the computer, and then trying 
out what I knew of the bag of code-breakers’ tricks. The results, which I describe in 
sections 3 through 6, were unexpectedly gratifying. 

This paper, then, indirectly addresses the question of the Book of Soyga' s 
possible influence on Dee by examining and comparing the form (or method of 
construction) of the tables in the Book of Soyga and those found in other early 
modern magic tables (including Dee’s and Agrippa’s), rather than their function 
(i.e., purpose or method of use). 

2. THE MAGIC TABLES OF THE BOOK OF SOYGA 

The Book of Soyga contains thirty-six tables; each table is a square grid of 36 rows 
and columns; each grid cell contains a letter of the Latin alphabet. 20 These tables turn 
out to be formed by a completely deterministic calculation method, or algorithm, 
starting from an arbitrary “code word” for each table. This construction algorithm is 
so intricate that it is unlikely that its presence would be detected on casual 
examination of the tables. 

Each of the thirty-six tables is headed with a number and a label. I summarize 
these in my Table 1. For convenience I will refer to them as Tl, T2, and so on. T1 
through T12 are labelled with the signs of the zodiac, Aries through Pisces; as are 
T13 through T24. T25 through T31 are labelled with the seven planet names, and 
T32 through T35 with the four element names. T36 is labelled with the word 



JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


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Plate 10: Book of Soyga , T1 Aries table. Department of Manuscripts, British Library, 
MS Sloane 8, fols. 102 v and 103 v . (By Permission of the British Library). 
















































































































































































































JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


183 


“Magistri”. (See Plates 9 and 10 for the Bodley 908 and Sloane 8 versions of T1 
“Aries”). 


Table 1. Soyga Tables 


Table 

Label 

Code word 

Bodley 908 

Location in 

Sloane 8 

Sloane 3189 

1 

Aries 

NISRAM 

180 r 

1027103 r 

58 v 

2 

Taurus 

ROELER 

180 v 

1037l04 r 

60 v 

3 

Gemini 

IOMIOT 

18 l r 

104 v /l 05 r 

62 v 

4 

Cancer 

ISIAPO 

181 v 

105 v /l 06 r 

64 v 

5 

Leo 

ORRASE 

182 r 

106 v /l 07 r 


6 

Virgo 

OSACUE 

182 v 

107 v /108 r 


7 

Libra 

XUAUIR 

183 r 

108 v /l 09 r 


8 

Scorpio 

RAOSAC 

183 v 

1097110 r 


9 

Sagittarius 

RSADUA 

184 r 

noviir 


10 

Capricomus 

ATROGA 

184 v 

nr/ii2 r 


11 

Aquarius 

SDUOLO 

185 r 

1127113 r 


12 

Pisces 

ARICAA 

185 v 

1137114 r 


13 

Aries 

MARSIN 

186 r 

1147115 r 

59 r 

14 

Tarurus 

RELEOR 

186 v 

1157116 r 

61 r 

15 

Gemini 

TOIMOI 

187 r 

1167117 r 

63 r 

16 

Cancer 

OPAISI 

187 v 

1177118 r 

65 r 

17 

Leo 

ESARRO 

OO 

OO 

1187119 r 


18 

Virgo 

EUCASO 

188 v 

1197l20 r 


19 

Libra 

RIUAUX 

189 r 

120v/121 r 


20 

Scorpio 

CASOAR 

189 v 

12l7l22 r 


21 

Sagittarius 

AUDASR 

© 

Os 

1227l23 r 


22 

Capricomus 

AGORTA 

190 v 

1237l24 r 


23 

Aquarius 

OLOUDS 

19 l r 

1247125 1 


24 

Pisces 

AACIRA 

19 l v 

1257126 1 


25 

Satumi 

OSRESO 

192 r 

1267l27 r 


26 

Jovis 

NIEBOA 

192 v 

1277l28 r 


27 

Martis 

OIAIAE 

193 r 

1287l29 r 


28 

Solis 

ITIABA 

193 v 

1297130 r 


29 

Veneris 

AD AMIS 

194 r 

130713 l r 


30 

Mercurii 

REUELA 

194 v 

1317132 r 


31 

Lunae 

UISEUA 

195 r 

1327133 r 


32 

Ignis 

MERONF 

195 v 

1337134 r 


33 

Aeris 

ILIOSU 

196 r 

1347135 r 


34 

Aquae 

OYNIND 

196 v 

1357136 r 


35 

Terrae 

IASULA 

197 r 

1367137 r 


36 

Magistri 

MOYSES 

197 v 

1377138 r 



Eight of these tables also appear copied in Dee’s notebook, the Book of Enoch , 
joined in pairs: “The First Table” in the Book of Enoch is a 72-row table, filling both 
pages of an opening, the first 36 rows of which are Soyga’s T1 and the last 36 rows 




184 


J. REEDS 




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Plate 11: Book of Enoch , equivalent of T1 ‘Aries’ Table. Department of 
Manuscripts, British Library, MS 3189, fol. 58 v . (By Permission of the British 
Library). 





























JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


185 


of which are Soyga’s T13, the two “Aries” tables, and so on, as indicated in my 
Table l. 21 See Plate 11 for the Book of Enoch version of T1 “Aries”. 

The tables are written with italic letters, mostly lower case, written into a neatly 
pencilled regular grid. In Bodley 908 the grid cells measure approximately one 
quarter of an inch, so a complete table fits on one page. In Sloane 8 the grid cells are 
approximately one third of an inch in size, and each table occupies the two facing 
pages of an opening. In each book there is occasional use of the short s; much more 
common is the long / The writing becomes more even after the first few tables, with 
greatly diminished use of upper case letters, as if the copyist became accustomed to 
what must have been an unusually irksome and tedious task of copying completely 
senseless data which offered no obvious contextual clues for correcting mistakes. In 
Bodley 908 upper case L is used exclusively, presumably to avoid confusion with 
long /. In Sloane 8 lower case / is used exclusively. 

The handwriting in Bodley 908 is quite even, and pains seem to have been taken 
to make the letters clearly distinguishable. The handwriting in Sloane 8 is less clear, 
so that n and u are often hard to tell apart, as are the pairs c/e and l/i. Sloane 8 shows 
obvious signs of proofreading, with dots, double dots, and cup strokes marking 
errors or doubtful readings. Occasionally a cell contains, in addition to its main 
letter, a tiny / followed by another tiny letter; I surmise / means forte and the 
following letter is a suggested correction. Some corrections seem to have been made 
by erasure and overwriting; the handwriting also seems to change part way through. 

The left-hand margin in each table is special. Each table has a “code word”, e.g., 
T1 “Aries” has code word NISRAM. The left margin is composed entirely of the 
code word and the reversed code word, e.g., NISRAM MARSIN NISRAM 
MARSIN [...] repeated until the margin is filled. 

The code words are listed in the third column of my Table 1. All thirty-six of 
them are exactly 6 letters long. The treatise in the Book of Soyga which discusses the 
tables, the Liber Radiorum , has a series of paragraphs mentioning the code words 
for twenty-three of the tables, together with number sequences which stand in 
unknown relation to the words. 22 

Note that the code words for T13-T24 are the reverses of those of the 
corresponding T1-T12. Thus, T1 “Aries” has code word NISRAM and T13, also 
“Aries”, has code word MARSIN. 

In Bodley 908, T36 “Magistri” has a blank 13th line - the first line after the first 
complete MOYSES/SESYOM cycle on the left. The Sloane 8 version of the table 
has the same 35 non-blank lines, but they have “closed ranks” so it is the last line of 
36 which is blank. 

In general, the first four or five rows of the tables appear very repetitious. Often 
the first row or two consist entirely of endless repetitions of a given two-letter 
“motif’, followed by two or three rows of repetitions of a 4-letter motif, with maybe 
another row or so consisting of repetitions of a 12-letter pattern. But these 



186 


J. REEDS 


repetitions do not start until one has gone some distance into the row; with each 
successive row, one has to go further. 

This may be seen in T1 “Aries”, shown in Plates 9 and 10, where the first three 
lines soon fall into repetitions of the 4-letter motifs dizb, lytr, and xiba, 
respectively, and the next two rows into repetitions of the 12-letter motifs 
qsrnylfdfzly and ohqtauiducis, respectively. Many of these motifs are 
found in several of the tables. 

A few tables (like T5 “Leo”) have a vast triangular area of repeats of yoyo: 

oyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy 
rkfaqtyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyo 
rxxqnkoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy 
azzsxbqtyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyo 
sheimasddtguoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy 
eyuaoiismspkfaqtyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyo 
enlxfIfudzrxxqnkoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy 
sxcahqczfbtfzsxbqtyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyo 
azepxhheurgmyknqnkoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy 
rlbriyzycuyddpotxbqtyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyo 
ryrezabirhdiszeknqnkoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy 
ogzgfceztqalpntsxhssyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyo 
opnxxsnodxqhuekknykkoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy 
rcqsfueesfsqrqgqrossyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyo 
roauxmdkkxkhyhmpzqphdtgtguoyoyoyoyoy 
aqxmudiamubkoqifbszktdmspkfaqtyoyoyo 
sazoesrmlrnaqnzhgabmsmlpeahfsddtguoy 


Various other less pronounced repetitious structures can also be seen in the 
tables. 


3. ANALYSIS OF TABLES 


Because Bodley 908 ’s tables seemed more legible, I transcribed them first. The 
transcribed text was entered into the computer with many measures taken to prevent 
or detect copying errors. Once it was entered, repetitions in the text could be sought, 
patterns counted, and proof sheets printed. 


In the course of this work it was noticed that in the vast majority of cases where 
a pair of adjacent m’s appeared, the letter above the second m was usually an n. That 





n 

is, the pattern 

m m 

was almost always actually 

m m 


This led to a tabulation 


of all triplets of letters occurring in a 


N 

WX 


configuration, and it was found that in 




JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


187 


a large majority of case the letter occupying the X position was predictable from the 
letters in the N and W positions. (The names of these variables are meant to 
represent the letter at the spot marked by X, the letter to its North , and the letter to its 
West.) 

This led to discovery of an equation of form: 

X = N+f(W) 

where f(W) is a function of W and the addition is taken modulo 23. Here the letters 

are assigned numerical values according to their positions in the 23-letter Latin 
alphabet: a = 1, b = 2, [...] , u = 20, x = 21, y = 22, z = 23, so that z + 2 = b, etc. 
The final ingredient in this formula, the auxiliary function/, is known to us only by a 
table of values determined empirically. 

Table 2. Auxiliary function values 


w 

f(W) 

W 

RW) 

W 

f(W) 

W 

f(W) 

a 

2 

g 

6 

n 

14 

t 

8 

b 

2 

h 

5 

o 

8 

u 

15 

c 

3 

i 

14 

P 

13 

X 

15 

d 

5 

k 

15 

q 

20 

y 

15 

e 

14 

1 

20 

r 

11 

z 

2 

f 

2 

m 

22 

s 

8 




Expressed another way: a letter is obtained by counting a certain number of letters 
after the letter immediately above (i.e., north of) it in the table. The number of letters 
to count is determined by the letter standing to the immediate left (i.e., west). If the 
letter to the left is an f, for instance, we are to count two letters past the letter above. 
So, continuing the example, if the letter above is an 1, then the letter in question 


must be n, which is two letters past 1: 


f n 


, If the end of the alphabet is reached 


in this letter counting, one starts over at the beginning, treating a as the letter after z, 
and so on. 


For letters in the top row of a Soyga table, for which there is no N letter, the 
following formula holds: 


X = W +f(W) 

where the addition is again performed modulo 23. That is, for letters in the top row 
one applies the rule for letters in the interior of the table, acting as if the letter 
appearing to the left also appears above. 






188 


J. REEDS 


4. DIRECTIONS FOR CREATING THE TABLES 

This, then, is a recipe for recreating the tables, although almost certainly not 
expressed in the same terms the Soyga author would have used. Starting with a code 
word, such as NISRAM, and an empty grid of 36 rows and columns: 

4.1. Left Column 

Write the code word followed by its reverse into the cells of the left hand column, 
starting at the top and working downwards, repeating the process until the column is 
full. 

4.2. Top Row 

Fill in the remaining 35 cells of the top line, working from left to right, repeatedly 
applying the formula X = W+f (JV) . 

In our example, the first application of this formula yields n + /(n) , that is, the 
letter /(n) = 14 places after n in the 23-letter alphabet, which is d. (Thus: n is the 
13th letter; 13 + 14 = 27; reduced modulo 23, 27 is 4, which is d.) Write the letter d 
in the second cell in the top row, just to the right of the n of NISRAM. 

The second application yields d + /(d) . Since /(d) = 5, this gives us i, the 
fifth letter after d. Write an i in the third cell of the top row. 

The third application yields i + /(i) . Since /(i) = 14 , this gives us z, the 
14th letter after i. Write a z in the fourth cell of the top row. 

The fourth application yields z + /(z) = 23 + 2 = 25 = 2 = b; put a b in the 
fifth cell. 

The fifth application yields b + /(b) = 2 + 2 = 4 = d; put a d in the sixth 
cell. At this point we have fallen into a cycle: the next application yields d + /(d) 
which we have already seen before is i, and the rest of the first row will continue to 
repeat dizb dizb [...] 

At this point the top few rows of the partially filled in table will look like this: 

ndizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdiz 

i. 

s. 

r. 






JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


189 


4.3. Interior of Table 

Now, starting with the second row and working left to right within rows, fill in the 
interior cells as follows. With each blank cell encountered, if the work has pro¬ 
gressed in normal European page-reading order, the cell just above the blank cell 
and the cell to the left have both been filled in. Call the letters appearing in those 
cells N and W, respectively, and use the formula N + f(W) to determine what to 
write into the blank cell under consideration. 

For example, the first blank cell in row 2 is the second cell. It has a d above it 
and an i to its left. So the letter d + /(i) = 4 + 14 = 18 = s is written in that 
blank cell. 

The next cell, cell 3 in row 2, has an i above it and an s to its left (the s which 
we just wrote). So we put i + /(s) = 9 + 8 = 17 = r in cell 3 of row 2. The next 
cell gets z + /(r) = 23+ 11 = 11 = 1, and so on. The top few rows now look like 
this: 


ndizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdiz 
isrl. 

s. 

This process, carried out row by row, left to right, will eventually fill the table. 

Alternatively, instead of working row-by-row, left-to-right in each row, as 
described here, one could equivalently work column-by-column, working 
downwards within each column. The final results would be the same. 

Of course I make no claim that the Soyga author intentionally used my 
X = N + f(W) formula. Whatever means were actually used to construct the 
tables clearly had this formula’s mathematical structure implicitly “built in”, but we 
can only guess at its implementation. The arithmetic modulo 23, for instance, could 
have been effected equally well by paper-and-pencil computations, by consultation 
of charts, by letter counting on finger tips, or by the use of Lullian wheels. 


5. ERROR ANALYSIS AND GENEALOGY 

In fact the tables found in the two extant manuscripts of the Book of Soyga are not 
identical with those I produced by a computer programmed to carry out the above 
rules, starting with the same code words as in the manuscripts. This is for two 
reasons: 

1. The law of formation for the tables is sufficiently intricate that the Soyga author 
occasionally made mistakes in working out the original tables. 

2. The copyists made new mistakes when transcribing so much apparently 
unpattemed text. 





190 


J. REEDS 


Fortunately for us, these two kinds of errors have radically different con¬ 
sequences. If a cell in the original is miscalculated, the mistake spoils the calculation 
of the cells to its right and below it, resulting in an avalanche of error with an easily 
recognizable rectangular shape. A mere copying error, however, will not have a 
cumulative effect, and will be classifiable into one of several familiar types: trans¬ 
position, deletion, eye skip, and replacement. 

In short, the constraints placed on the tables by the X = N + f(W) formula 

allow an aggressive form of textual emendation of the received tables in Bodley 908 
and Sloane 8. A similar technique has been used to trace copying of logarithm tables 
by Charles Babbage (1792-1871), but is of course not generally applicable. 23 Only 
texts with a well-defined mathematical structure are amenable to this method of 
detecting and correcting errors of generation and transcription. 

5.1. Principles of Error Diagnosis: An Artificial Example 

This can all be seen in an artificial example, concocted so as to display every kind of 
pathology in the first few lines of the table. Suppose the code word is SARTON. 
Ideally, the first few lines of the table would be: 

scfhndizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdiz 
aeuzprupprupprupprupprupprupprupprup 
rqrlmqrcsbygxilmobygxilmobygxilmobyg 
tattuhyscenxnzncrnnxnzncrnnxnzncrnnx 
oiklrtgaetxndedhyedcqueredsfpndhyedc 
nzmkikyqbxnditmgetmbsetbgkkxgtmgetmb 
noublgeghcqalqixuliqpsdgnamuylixuliq 
oymanxuyzeggrdofycmpeispcdrhdqf zycmp 
tgsidczabgnxisyxolifgphusmqesahenrzr 
rscmcfbcexemhzazqhoopeymrzsnipxueheh 


Call this the ideal original table. Suppose, however, that in working this out a 
mistake was made: an e was put down instead of a p in the fifth cell of the second 
line. This mistaken letter will cause mistaken values to be calculated for the sixth 
cell of the second line and for the fifth cell of the third line, and those mistakes will 
beget others. The resulting actual original table will be (with the erroneous e 
capitalized): 


scfhndizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdizbdiz 
aeuzEsrlytrlytrlytrlytrlytrlytrlytrl 
rqrlbuibaxibaxibaxibaxibaxibaxibaxib 
tattkmhggdokqsrnplfdfzlyqsrnplfdfzly 
oiklgsqdmcrxhztxgrrpthqtauiducisohqt 
nzmkykhicftfkpimftbrgoaxqruterukfkha 
noubamgpqcyxbrudlqyixfcasbylbteahpxq 



JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


191 


oymacpugysgdgzyttaalsolxkrkcekuqefzs 
tgsirczinixtpnnklxqhzqhcnhpqbmtagmyk 
rscmqzblkazxgtxbnmpxpfksxzrdgsdficbm 


Finally, suppose we receive this table, derived from the actual original but with a 
variety of copying errors: 

scfhudizbdizbdhzbdizbdizbdkzbdizbdiz 
aeuzefrlytrlyutlyttlyrtlyttlytrlytrl 
rqrlbnibaxibaxibaxibxibaxibaxiibaxib 
rattkmhggdokqstnplfdfzlyqfrnplfdfzly 
oikglsqdmcrxhztxgrrpthqranidueisohqt 
nzmkykhicstfkpimstyixfeafbylbtcahpxq 
uoubamgpqpyxbiudlqalsolxkrkcckuqefzf 
oymacpugyfgdgzyrtaqhzqhcnhpqbmtagmek 
tgfirczinixtpnnzlxqhzqhcnhpqbmtagmyk 
rfcmqzblkazxgtxbnmpxpsksxztdgsdsicbm 


Our task is to recover the ideal original and actual original and diagnose the 
copying errors. 

First we inspect the left margin, where we see SARRON UOTR [...], etc, which 
is a damaged version of SARTON NOTRAS, etc.; the code word is SARTON. (The 
left margin contains in all six copies — forward and reversed — of the code word, so 
in practice there is no doubt about what the code word is.) 

From this we work out the ideal original table, and examine those positions 
where the received table differs from it. This diagram displays places where the 
received table agrees with the ideal original with a dot and places where they 
disagree with the value seen in the received table: 

_u.h.k. 

....efrlytrlyutlyttly.tlyttlytrlytrl 
....bnibaxibaxibaxib..baxiba..ibaxib 
r...kmhggdokqstnplfdf.lyqfrnplfdfzly 
...glsqdmcrxhztxgrrpthq.anidueisohqt 
....y.hicstfkpims.yixfeafbylb.cahpxq 
u...amgpqpyxbiudlqalsolxkrkcckuqefzf 
....cp.gyf.dgzyrtaqhzqhcnhpqbmtagmek 
..f.r..inixtpnnzlxqhzq.cnhpqbmtagmyk 
.f..qz.lkazxgtxbnmpx.sksx.tdgsdsicbm 


Here we see an essentially solid rectangular region of disagreement, starting in 
the fifth cell of row 2, with the value e, which is due to an error in the original. The 
“pepper and salt” pattern of sporadic disagreements elsewhere is characteristic of 






192 


J. REEDS 


copying errors. So we conclude that an e was put down by mistake in row 2, cell 5 
in the original. 

Now we work out the corresponding putative original, and display the dis¬ 
agreements between it and the received copy: 


_u.h.k. 

.f.ut. . . t. . rt. . . t. 

.n.xibaxibaxi. 

r.t.f. 

. . . gl.r . n . . . e. 

.s.s . yixfeafbylbtcahpxq 

u.p. . .i. . . . alsolxkrkcckuqef zf 

.f.r..qhzqhcnhpqbmtagmek 

. . f.z. 


Since the remaining rectangular regions of disagreement do not reach to the 
bottom of the table, we conclude that they are not due to errors in the original. 
(Further examination will show they are due to eye skip.) No further errors seem to 
have been made in the original, so our putative original table is finished. 

We are now in a position to diagnose the copying errors. The mistakes in cells 
21 through 30 of line 3 are easily seen to be due to elision of an a from one of the 
repeating baxi groups; the pattern ends on the right foot again in cell 31 by the 
insertion of an extra i. We might term this a horizontal eye skip error. The errors in 
cells 19 through 36 in lines 6, 7, and 8 are seen to result from a vertical eye skip 
error, as follows. The rightmost 18 cells of lines 6, 7, 8, and 9 of the original are: 


brgoaxqruterukfkha 
yixfcasbylbteahpxq 
alsolxkrkcekuqefzs 
qhzqhcnhpqbmtagmyk 


and of the received copy are: 


yixfeafbylbtcahpxq 
alsolxkrkcckuqefzf 
qhzqhcnhpqbmtagmek 
qhzqhcnhpqbmtagmyk 

so we see that the copyist deleted the right half of line 6 and duplicated the right half 
of line 9. There is a transposition error in row 5, cells 4 and 5: the original has lg 
and the copy has gl. The remaining errors are simple replacements of one letter by 
another. 














JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


193 


5.2. Summary of Actual Errors 

In fact all of the types of errors illustrated above occur in both the Sloane 8 and 
Bodley 908 versions of the tables. There seems to have been one set of original 
tables which I call A. Our extant versions, Bodley 908 and Sloane 8, seem to have 
been derived independently from a flawed intermediate version which I call C. 


A 



C 


_ / 

Bodley 908 


\ _ 

[ Sloane 8 


The originals A were constructed with the code words as listed in my Table 1, by 
application of the N+ f(W ) formula; the errors in applying the formula are listed 

in my Table 3. Since errors in applying the N + f(W ) formula propagate and spoil 

everything below and to the right of the error locus, we can be sure that this is the 
complete list of errors in A. Out of the 46,656 cells in the complete set of tables, 
only 13 errors were made in applying the formula. 


Table 3. Errors in Originals 


Table 

Row/Col. 

Error 

Row/Col. 

Error 

Row/Col. 

Error 

T5 

15/24 

t 





T8 

28/25 

r 





T10 

18/11 

t 





T12 

15/9 

y 





T13 

18/2 

t 





T19 

19/29 

e 

20/28 

g 



T29 

18/11 

m 

17/16 

h 



T32 

6/25 

1 

7/24 

e 

34/27 

k 

T35 

19/23 

d 






The alternative, that Bodley 908 and Sloane 8 did not share a common original, 
would require us to believe that exactly these same particular errors (and no others) 
were committed in working out the originals for both Bodley 908 and for Sloane 8. 
This is so unlikely under any reasonable model for errors that I reject this alternative 
in favour of a single shared common original A. 

A number of gross eye skip errors were committed in the descent of Bodley 908 
and Sloane 8 from A. In Bodley 908’s version of T2, row 3, cells 20-35 read 








194 


J. REEDS 


axibaxibaxibaxib instead of xibaxibaxibaxiba; that is, an a was 
inserted at cell 20. In both Bodley 908’s and Sloane 8’s versions of T24, the right 
hand half of row 35 was elided and the right hand half of row 34 was duplicated. In 
both Bodley 908’s and Sloane 8’s versions of T36, row 3, cells 30-36 read 
baxibax instead of A’s ibaxiba, and row 12 is elided. 

I detected seven transposition errors, some unique to Bodley 908 and to Sloane 
8, and some shared, as listed in my Table 4. 

Table 4. Transposition Errors 


Table 

Row 

Col. 

Actual 

Correct 

Where found 

T3 

22 

29 

kq 

qk 

Bodley 908 


T12 

6 

8 

cp 

pc 


Sloane 8 

T25 

14 

34 

ms 

sm 

Bodley 908 


T30 

33 

28 

nm 

mn 

Bodley 908 

Sloane 8 

T31 

35 

16 

If 

fl 


Sloane 8 

T35 

22 

21 

nh 

hn 

Bodley 908 

Sloane 8 

T35 

27 

34 

rs 

sr 

Bodley 908 

Sloane 8 


A tabulation was made of all corresponding places where Sloane 8, Bodley 908, 
or A were all legible but failed to give unanimous readings of cell entries, except for 
those involved in the gross eye skips noted above. The tabulation was made again, 
where all differences explainable by mere confusion of /'//, u / n , f / s , etc, or 

t / r were censored, in an attempt to compensate for possible transcription errors on 
my part (especially in reading Sloane 8). 

Table 5. Summary of cell reading disagreements 


Type of Disagreement 

Raw 

Censored 

A, Bodley 908, and Sloane 8 all differ 

10 

6 

A and Bodley 908 same; Sloane 8 different 

266 

115 

A and Sloane 8 same; Bodley 908 different 

144 

75 

Bodley 908 and Sloane 8 same; A different 

394 

223 

A, Bodley 908, and Sloane 8 all agree 

45541 

45936 


The results, in my Table 5, again show Bodley 908 and Sloane 8 each have a 
large number of unique errors in addition to a larger number of shared errors. If 
either of Sloane 8 or Bodley 908 were copied from the other, the errors unique to the 
ancestor would have had to have been corrected in the child. Because the text is 
incoherent, there is no natural “self repair” mechanism analogous to a scribe’s 
knowledge of orthography or grammar allowing emendation of errors, at least in the 
large areas of the tables lacking repeating motifs. If both Bodley 908 and Sloane 8 
were independently derived from the original A, the 394 (or 223) shared errors 
would all be the result of accidental occurrence of precisely the same mistakes, 
independently committed in copying Bodley 908 from A and in copying Sloane 8 
from A. This is very unlikely under any reasonable model of copying errors. So we 







JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


195 


conclude instead that both Bodley 908 and Sloane 8 were derived from a common 
flawed copy, which I call C, of the originals. Because Bodley 908 seems to have 
fewer disagreements with A than Sloane 8 does, we conclude that Bodley 908 is a 
more accurate copy of C than Sloane 8 is. Overall, there seems to be a 3/4% copying 
error rate in going from A to C, a 1/2% error rate in going from C to Sloane 8, and a 
1/3% error rate in going from C to Bodley 908. 

The same techniques can be used to see what relation Dee’s copy of the eight 
Soyga tables appearing in Sloane 3189, the Book of Enoch , has to Bodley 908 and 
Sloane 8. 

In the first place, the T13 of Sloane 3189 shows the same mistake in applying 
the N + f(W) formula (in row 18, column 2) present in the T13 of A. Hence even 

if not copied directly from Bodley 908 or Sloane 8, the Soyga tables in Sloane 3189 
are, like those of Bodley 908 and Sloane 8, ultimately derived from A. A fortiori , 
they are copies of the Soyga tables, rather than simply creations inspired by, or in 
the same style as, the Soyga tables. 

Secondly, the T2 of Sloane 3189 lacks the gross eye skip error found in row 3 of 
T3 of Bodley 908. This suggests Sloane 3189 was not copied from Bodley 908, but 
not strongly so: the eye skip error occurs in the repeating baxibaxi area and could 
have been corrected by a naive but alert copyist. 

Thirdly, looking only at locations where all four of A, Bodley 908, Sloane 8 and 
Sloane 3189 supply legible values, I found the results in my Table 6. The agree- 
disagree counts seem to make Sloane 3189 slightly but insignificantly closer to 
Bodley 908 than to Sloane 8. 

Table 6. Summary of cell differences between Sloane 3189 and A, Bodley 908 and Sloane 8. 


Sloane 3189, 

Compared 

with 

Raw 

Disagree 

Agree 

Censored 

Disagree 

Agree 

A 

288 

9877 

209 

9956 

Bodley 908 

203 

9962 

149 

10016 

Sloane 8 

208 

9957 

155 

10010 


Fourth, and more tellingly, the transposition error in T3 of Bodley 908, where 
there is a kq instead of the correct qk in row 22, is not present in the T3 of Sloane 
3189. Unlike the T2 eye skip error, this error is well outside the area of repeating 
motifs, and so uncorrectable by a naive copyist. 

On balance, then, it seems that the Soyga tables in Dee’s Book of Enoch , Sloane 
3189, are closer in manuscript transmission to Sloane 8 than to Bodley 908. 

Assuming that the Sloane 3189 Soyga tables were copied from Sloane 8, the 
most common copying error was replacing z by x: out of the 477 occurrences of the 




196 


J. REEDS 


letter z in the Sloane 8 tables which have corresponding Sloane 3189 versions, it 
was rendered correctly 441 times, rendered as an x 34 times, and as a q and an r 
each once. There are 9 instances where an i was written instead of a y. Overall, 
there is a 1.5% copying error rate from Sloane 8. 


Regardless of which particular manuscript the Book of Enoch got its Soyga table 
copies from, the questions of why they were copied and what relation they have to 
the Enochian system are central to furthering our understanding of Dee’s relation to 
the Book of Soyga. On the one hand it is possible that Dee deliberately copied them 
(or had them copied) into his notebook (in rearranged sequence: Tl, T13, T2, T14, 
and so on, so both “Aries” tables were visible on an opening, both “Taurus” tables 
visible on the next, etc.) for ready reference, possibly with motives similar to mine 
in section 3 of this paper, or possibly in order to use them in magical operations. 
This might have happened some time before 1582, that is, before his “Enochian” 
period, in which case their appearance with the Enochian material in Sloane 3189 
would be the accidental result of reuse of a largely blank notebook. On the other 
hand, they might have a more direct connection with the Sloane 3189 Enochian 
material: they might have been revealed the same way the rest of the Book of Enoch 
material was (in which case the copying errors could be attributed either laudably to 
angelic emendation or deplorably to mundane data-entry-clerk error), or they might 
have been accorded a semi-privileged status, not themselves revealed but worthy of 
inclusion as an appendix to the Book of Enoch by a principle of virtue-by- 
association. Even though I see no way to use the methods of this paper to distinguish 
between these possibilities, I do not hesitate to speculate in the next section about 
one possible stylistic connection between the Soyga tables and the rest of the Book 
of Enoch. 


6. COMPARISON WITH OTHER TABLES 

Large square tabular arrays of letters are quite common in early modern magic 
works, exhibiting a variety of forms as yet unsurveyed in the scholarly literature. 
Here I present a brief taxonomy of magic tables according to their internal structure. 

The more usual point of view, represented by Yates, pays primary attention to 
the authors’ theories of magic and scant attention to the actual form of the tables: 

[...] in Agrippa’s Third Book [on Occult Philosophy] there are elaborate numerical and 
alphabetical tables for angel-summoning of the type [my emphasis] which Dee and 
Kelley used in their operations [...] These can be seen in Dee’s manuscript ‘Book of 
Enoch’, British Museum, Sloane MSS. 3189. Cf. the ‘Ziruph Tables’ in Agrippa’s De 
occult, phil., III, 24. Agrippa was not Dee’s and Kelley’s only source for practical 
Cabala, but their minds run on these things within the Agrippan framework. 24 

In fact Dee’s tables and Agrippa’s have completely different forms (as can be 
seen by glancing at Plates 12 and 13), so Yates must be using “of the type” to refer 
to the authors’ intentions and not to their tables’ actual appearance or formation. 25 


My tentative taxonomy begins by crudely dividing all square magic tables into 
two classes, the small and the large, according to whether they have, say, fewer than 



JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


197 


fifteen rows and columns or more. Among the small tables are those with letters 
forming words when read either vertically or horizontally, as in the famous square 
found at Herculaneum, 


s 

A 

T 

0 

R 

A 

R 

E 

P 

0 

T 

E 

N 

E 

T 

0 

P 

E 

R 

A 

R 

0 

T 

A 

S 


which are nowadays known as “word squares”. Word square charms have been in 
continuous use from Roman times to the present. Many such squares appear in 
Abraham ben Simeon’s Cabala Mystica, which Patai concludes — based in part on 
an analysis of the text in the squares themselves — was written around 1400. 26 

Small numerical tables like 


11 

24 

7 

20 

3 

4 

12 

25 

8 

16 

17 

5 

13 

21 

9 

10 

18 

1 

14 

22 

23 

6 

19 

2 

15 


nowadays known as “magic squares”, have also been used since the late middle ages 
in Europe and in Asia for far longer as charms or arithmetical amusements. 27 (The 
numbers in each of the rows, columns, and two main diagonals all add up to the 
same sum, in this case 65.) Such a small numerical square appears in the 1514 print 
Melencolia I of Albrecht Diirer (1471-1528); many others are to be found in 
Agrippa’s Book II, where each planet is assigned its own magic square, each square 
being presented in both Arabic and equivalent Hebrew numerals. 28 

As far as I know, all large magic tables in mediaeval or early modern sources are 
alphabetic. We may divide them into unpattemed and patterned; the latter are 
subdivided into those in which the form of the pattern is obvious and those in which 
the pattern is hidden. 

Most of Dee’s tables in the Book of Enoch are unpatterned: squares and lozenge 
shaped arrays with 49 rows and columns filled with text in the “Enochian” language 
described by Laycock and Whitby. 29 One of these is illustrated in Plate 12. The text 
is inscribed in the tables line by line, left to right, one letter per cell, with no space 
between words. The eight Soyga tables appearing in the same book are of course 
patterned, but with a hidden pattern; it is tempting to believe that Dee’s favourite 
table size, 49, was inspired by the size of the Soyga tables, 36, since 49 = 7 • 7 is 
the next perfect square after 36 = 6-6. Similarly there are 36 Soyga tables and, as 
Kelley informed Dee on 24 March 1582/1583, there were to be 49 Enochian tables. 30 





198 


J. REEDS 


_y_cin ^'it ?l V ^ i V) t l a n.* 



* V 








Plate 12: Book of Enoch, non -Soyga, ‘Bapporgel bvrioldepnay’ table. Department of 
Manuscripts, British Library, MS 3189, fol. 56 v . (By Permission of the British 
Library). 







JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


199 


There are many large patterned tables in one of Agrippa’s Cabalistic chapters. 31 
They include: an angel chart of no interest to us, a “right table of commutation”, an 
“averse table of commutation”, an “irrational averse table of commutation”, a “table 
of Ziruph”, and a “rational table of Ziruph”. 

The three tables of commutation are examples of what are nowadays known as 
“Latin squares”, A by A tabular arrays of symbols from an A symbol alphabet - in 
this case the A = 22 letter Hebrew alphabet — arranged in such a way that each 
letter appears just once in each row and in each column. 32 

It is possible that Agrippa received the idea of the “tabula commutationum recta” 
from Trithemius. Book 5 of Trithemius’s Polygraphia (written in 1508 but printed 
in 1518) contains a “recta transpositionis tabula” and a “tabula transpositionis 
aversa” of exactly the same form as Agrippa’s but based on a hybrid 24 letter 
alphabet formed by adjoining “w” to the end of the standard 23 letter Latin 
alphabet. 33 These Latin squares are of a particularly simple type, where each row is a 
shift of its predecessor, giving the table an overall barber-pole pattern of diagonal 
stripes. 

Agrippa’s third table of commutation, the “tabula aversa dicatur irrationalis” is a 
more complex Latin square. The top row and right-hand vertical margin contain the 
alphabet in its usual order; the bottom row and the left-hand vertical margin contain 
the alphabet in reversed order. The interior of the table is partially patterned. Most 
rows contain blocks of letters in consecutive alphabetical order. Because most of 
these blocks are shifted by one square from corresponding blocks in neighbouring 
rows, much of the area of the table has a diagonally striped pattern. But there does 
not seem to be a simple rule specifying the overall conformation of the table. It 
seems to be the result of an attempt to construct a Latin square as diagonally striped 
as possible, consistent with the given normal and reversed alphabets appearing in the 
margins. 

Agrippa’s table of Ziruph, illustrated in Plate 13, is possibly copied from Johann 
Reuchlin (1455-1522), who in turn owes much to the thirteenth century Cabalist 
Abraham Abulafia (1240-1292). 34 It consists of 22 rows, each with 11 cells per row. 
In each cell is a pair of Hebrew letters, placed in such a way that each letter appears 
exactly once in each row. Each row represents a reciprocal substitution alphabet: the 
letters in each of the 11 pairs are to be substituted for each other. One of these rows 
gives the “Atbash” alphabet according to which the first and last letters of the 
Hebrew alphabet (< aleph and taw) are interchanged, the second and second from last 
(beth and shin), and so on. 35 Successive rows are obtained by alternately shifting all 
the left hand elements of the pairs to the pair to the left or all the right hand elements 
to the pair to the right (with a provision for reversing direction when the end is 
reached) in a kind of contredanse 36 

Such substitution alphabets are used in the branch of the practical Cabala known 
as temurah (permutation) in connection with the operation of tseruf (combination). 
The intent is to enlarge the scope of Cabalistic correspondences between words and 
phrases: two words are related not only if they have the same numerical sum, as in 



200 


J. REEDS 


CCLXU. DE OCCVLTA FHIlOSOPHIA* 


TABVLA COMBINATIONVM ZIRVFH* 


03 

3" 


jn 

st 

m 

pn 

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P3 

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P3 

3N 

03 

s 

OP 

m 

or 

yi 

on 

Y3 

P> 

33 

PN 

255 

O 1 

3D 

on 

pi 

pi 

xn 

Pn 

1-2 

P3 

■ ON 













Plate 13: H. C. Agrippa von Nettesheim, De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres, 
‘Ziruph’ Table: III, 25, sig. y iii v . Reproduced courtesy of Robert O. Lenkiewicz. 

























JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


201 


usual gematria , but also if the one is equal to the Atbash-transformed version of the 
other, and so on. The “rational table of Ziruph” is possibly Agrippa’s invention. The 
size, shape, and general appearance of this table are the same as the Ziruph table, but 
the pattern by which the letters shift from row to row is slightly different. 

Not all large patterned tables appearing in the early modern period are magical, 
however. For instance, a manuscript of Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) contains letter 
squares intended to illustrate a combinatorial calculation. 37 These tables, like the 
Soyga tables, are derived from a key word or phrase, but unlike the Soyga tables, the 
pattern is completely obvious. Harriot used the key phrases HENRICVS PRINCEPS 
FECIT and SILO PRINCEPS FECIT to form squares of 21 and 17 rows 
respectively. The following artificial example based on the key word VERITAS 
illustrates the pattern. (The key phrase starts at the centre and emanates in concentric 
lozenges towards the corners.) 


s 

A 

T 

I 

T 

A 

S 

A 

T 

I 

R 

I 

T 

A 

T 

I 

R 

E 

R 

I 

T 

I 

R 

E 

V 

E 

R 

I 

T 

I 

R 

E 

R 

I 

T 

A 

T 

I 

R 

I 

T 

A 

S 

A 

T 

I 

T 

A 

S 


Each of these tables is accompanied by a numerical calculation, which turns out 
to give the number of ways the given key phrase can be spelled out in the square, 
following a path of vertical and horizontal moves to adjacent cells, starting in the 
centre and finishing in a comer. (The present VERITAS specimen has 80 such 
paths; the general formula is 4 times the binomial coefficient 2n choose n when the 
key phrase has 2n + 1 letters.) 

And finally we have the tables in the Book of Soyga as our sole examples of 
large patterned tables whose pattern is hidden. None of the other tables, intricate as 
they are, have so complex an underlying pattern as that given by the TV + f(W) 
formula used in the Book of Soyga. It is no wonder that Dee found them perplexing. 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 

I gratefully acknowledge the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, for permission 
to publish the illustration of Bodley 908, fol. 180 r ; the Department of Manuscripts, 
British Library, for permission to publish the illustrations of Sloane 8, fols. 102 v and 
103 r , and Sloane 3189, fols. 56 v and 58 v ; and Robert O. Lenkiewicz, for permission 
to publish the illustration of the “Tabula combinationum Ziruph”. I am most grateful 
to Drs. S. Clucas, K. de Leon-Jones, J.V. Field, D.E. Harkness, J.C. Lagarias, and K. 
M. Reeds for their generous help, advice, and encouragement. I am also grateful to 
Clay Holden, Dr David Kahn, Joseph H. Peterson, Dr Muriel Seltman, and Dr Allan 
Wilks. All mistakes are of course my own. 




202 


J. REEDS 


NOTES 


1 Lib.Myst., fol. 9 r . 

2 All of these examples: Christopher Whitby, John Dee’s Actions With Spirits, 2 vols (New York: 
Garland, 1988), I, 146-147. 

3 Scrying, a cooperative magical operation during which privileged visual and aural information - in this 
case from angels - is conveyed to the participants, was much used by Dee. Three differing views of what 
“really went on” are presented in Meric Casaubon, A True and Faithful Relation (London, 1659) (which I 
have not seen), in Whitby, Actions with Spirits , I, and in D. E. Harkness, “Shows in the Showstone: A 
Theater of Alchemy and Apocalypse in the Angel Conversations of John Dee (1527-1608/9)”, Renai¬ 
ssance Quarterly, 49 (1996), 707-737. 

4 Lib.Myst., fol. 9 r , transcribed in Whitby, Actions with Spirits, II, 17-18 and translated in Whitby, Actions 
with Spirits, I, 211-212. 

5 A marginal note on Lib.Myst., fol. 9 r , transcribed in Whitby, Actions with Spirits, II, 18, seems to 
suggest that Kelley and Dee had met for the first time two days previous to this: “Note: he had two dayes 
before made the like demaunde and request vnto me: but he went away vnsatisfied. For, his coming was 
to entrap me, yf I had any dealing with Wicked spirits as he confessed often tymes after.” See my note 16 
for evidence of Kelley’s continued ignorance of basic facts about the Book of Soyga a month later. 

6 Whitby, Actions with Spirits, I, 146-147; Deborah Elizabeth Harkness, “The Scientific Reformation: 
John Dee and the Restitution of Nature” (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Davis, 
1994), 317-318, 415. Both guess that the Book of Soyga might well have influenced Dee or Kelley. 
Harkness, 415, suggests that the Book of Soyga’s Adamic association - in particular its use of an Adamic 
language, discussed by Uriel and II, in Lib.Myst., fols. 9 r and 89 v - would have especially appealed to 
Dee. Whitby, Actions with Spirits, I, 147, cites I.R.F. Calder as conjecturing that the Book of Soyga is the 
Voynich manuscript (Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, MS 408), the 
notorious cipher manuscript described by J.M. Manly, “Roger Bacon and the Voynich MS”, Speculum, 6 
(1931): 345-391; if true, this would be a case of solving one mystery by replacing it with a greater. I see 
no connection between the two books, other than their probable ownership by Dee. The Book of Enoch, 
also called Liber Logaeth and Liber mysteriorum sextus et sanctus, British Library, Sloane MS 3189, was 
in effect Dee’s lab notebook, written concurrently with Sloane MS 3188. Whitby, Actions with Spirits, I, 
143, gives a description of its contents. 

7 Deborah Harkness, personal communication, 1996, and “The Nexus of Angelology, Eschatology, and 
Natural Philosophy in John Dee’s Angel Conversations and Library” in this volume. 

8 Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley MS 908; British Library, Sloane MS 8. 

9 The description of Bodley MS 908 is based on examination of a microfilm copy, not on the manuscript 
itself. 

10 “Zadzaczadlin”: Bodley MS 908, fol. 69 v and Sloane MS 8, fol. 70 v . 

11 Robert Turner, Henry Cornelius Agrippa His Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy (London, 1655; 
reprinted London: Askin, 1978). 

12 Bodley MS 908, fol. 5l v . 

13 Both in Bodley MS 908, fol. 42 r . 

14 As described by, say, Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni¬ 
versity Press, 1989). 

15 “Geber”: Bodley MS 908, fols. 116 V and 126 r ; “Steganographia”: Bodley MS 908 fol. 123 v . 

16 Bodley MS 908, fol. 4 r ; Sloane 8, fol. 6 r . But this directly contradicts what the spirit “II” said during a 
scrying session with Edward Kelley and John Dee on Thursday 18 April 1583, as recorded in Lib.Myst., 
fol. 89 v , transcribed in Whitby, Actions with Spirits, II, 332: “Soyga signifieth not Agyos. Soyga alca 
miketh .” (Dee’s - or Il’s - emphasis.) One might take this as evidence of Kelley’s unfamiliarity with the 
Book of Soyga at this early stage in his residence in Dee’s household. 

17 Wayne Shumaker, The Occult Sciences in the Renaissance: A Study in Intellectual Patterns (Berkeley, 
California: University of California Press, 1972). 

18 D.P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella, (London: Warburg Institute, 
1958) and Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge and Kegan 
Paul, 1964). It is certain that Hermeticism and Cabalism were important formative influences on early 
modem magic, even if Yates’s claims about their influence on early modem science are rejected. 

19 Karen de Leon-Jones, personal communication, 1998. I have not found a single table or chart or dis¬ 
cussion of such anywhere in the works I have seen of the two great modem historians of the Cabala, 
Gershom Scholem and Moshe Idel. 

20 In Bodley MS 908, at fols. 180-197; in Sloane MS 8, at fols. 102-138; see my Table 1. 



JOHN DEE AND THE BOOK OF SOYGA 


203 


21 Book of Enoch, Sloane MS 3189, in four openings of the book, between fols. 58-65, as shown in my 
Tablet. 

22 In Bodley MS 908, fols. 167 r -168 v ; in Sloane MS 8, fols. 138 v -140 v . The Bodley MS 908 version seems 
to contain many mistakes. 

23 Charles Babbage, “Notice respecting some Errors common to many Tables of Logarithms”, Memoirs of 
the Astronomical Society, 3 (1827): 65-67, which I have only seen reprinted in Charles Babbage, The 
works of Charles Babbage, edited by Martin Campbell-Kelly, 11 vols (London: W. Pickering, 1987), II, 
67-71. Summarized in Dr Dionysius Lardner, “Babbage’s Calculating Engine”, Edinburgh Review, July 
1834, no. 120; which I have only seen as reprinted in Philip Morrison and Emily Morrison, eds., Charles 
Babbage and his Calculating Engines, Selected Writings by Charles Babbage and Others, (New York: 
Dover, 1961), 163-224; the discussion of errors in logarithm tables appears on 177-183. 

24 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 149 and note. The tables are in Agrippa, De Occulta Philosophia, III, 25, not 
III, 24. 

25 That is, Yates did not care to pay attention to the differences between the tables, possibly because she 
did not know how to. It is also possible that for Yates, magic tables - unlike texts or images - are not 
subject to the processes of copying, emulation, improvement, and confusion; that is, they are neither 
vehicles for ideas nor potential sources of evidence in intellectual or cultural history. 

26 Raphael Patai, The Jewish Alchemists (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 277-288. 

27 Menso Folkerts, “Zur Fruhgeschichte der magischen Quadrate in Westeuropa”, Sudhoffs Archiv, 65 
(1981): 313-338 gives a detailed survey of the genre. Vladimir Karpenko, “Between Magic and Science: 
Numerical Magic Squares”, Ambix, 40 (1993), 121-128, surveys alchemical magic squares; in this 
connection, also see Patai, The Jewish Alchemists, chapter 26. 

28 Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, De Occulta Philosophia libri tres (Cologne, 1533). I rely on 
the edition of V. Perrone Compagni (Leiden: Brill, 1992). In a supercilious scholium, Shumaker, The 
Occult Sciences in the Renaissance, 139, takes Agrippa to task for a mistake in one of his magic squares. 
However the mistake is clearly a typographic error present only in the Arabic numeral form of the square, 
and only in the particular edition Shumaker looked at. (Shumaker, 158, note 70, seems to say he relies on 
“Henricus Agrippa ab Nettesheym, Opera (Lugduni, c.1650?)”, which he understands to be printed in 
London instead of Lyons!). For a discussion of Agrippa’s magic squares, see K. A. Nowotny, “The con¬ 
struction of certain seals and characters in the work of Agrippa of Nettesheim”, Journal of the Warburg 
and CourtauldInstitutes, 11 (1949): 46-57 and I.R.F. Calder, “A note on magic squares in the philosophy 
of Agrippa of Nettesheim”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 11 (1949): 196-199. 

29 Donald C. Laycock, The Complete Enochian Dictionary: A Dictionary of the Angelic Language as 
Revealed to Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley, revised edition (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 
1994); Whitby, Actions with Spirits, I, 144-146. 

30 Sloane MS 3189, fol. 62 v , transcribed in Whitby, Actions with Spirits, II, 227. Apparently one of the 
tables is not to be written, leaving only 48 to be put in the Book of Enoch. It is tempting to compare this 
with the Book of Soyga’s T36 “Magistri”, which has a missing row. 

31 Agrippa, De Occulta Philosophia, III, 25, sigs. yii. r -yiiii. r . These tables are surveyed in a modem re¬ 
issue of the John French translation (London, 1651) of Agrippa: Three Books of Occult Philosophy, 
edited by Donald Tyson (St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 1993), appendix VII, 762-767. 

32 J. Denes and A. D. Keedwell, Latin Squares and their Applications (New York: Academic Press, 
1974). 

33 Johannes Trithemius, Polygraphiae libri sex (Oppenheim, 1518), V, sigs. oij. r and oij. v . It is most 
unlikely that Trithemius received the idea of such tables from Agrippa when they met in the winter of 
1509/1510 as both of the 1508 Polygraphia manuscripts (Wolfenbtittel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. 
Guelf, 8 Aug. 2°, and Vienna, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 3308) contain these tables. In 
1510 Agrippa sent Trithemius a draft of his De occulta philosophia which, according to Compagni (58), 
lacked the chapter containing the Ziruph tables and tables of commutation. Trithemius’s use of the tabula 
recta is purely cryptographic, and most printed works on cryptography ever since include such diagrams, 
often under the name of “Vigenere table”. Since Agrippa’s text does not discuss his tables of 
commutation it seems more likely, in the absence of further direct evidence, that Agrippa copied from 
Trithemius. 

34 Johann Reuchlin, De Arte Cabalistica (Hagenau, 1517), Book III, sig. Nvi. r ; I rely on the parallel-text 
translation of M. Goodman and S. Goodman, of 1983, reissued with introduction by Moshe Idel (Lincoln, 
Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1993). For gematria and the Reuchlin-Abulafia connection see 
Gershom Scholem, “Gematria” in Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Macmillan, 1971) and Gershom 
Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, second edition, reissued (New York: Schocken, 1995), 127. 

35 A somewhat similar table of reciprocal substitution alphabets occurs in Giovanni-Battista della Porta, 
De Occultis Literarum Notis (Naples, 1563) II, 16; I rely on a facsimile (Zaragoza: Catedra de Cripto- 



204 


J. REEDS 


grafia del Centro Politecnico Superior de la Universidad de Zaragoza, 1996) of the 1593 Montbeliard 
edition. This is a cryptographic work, and Porta tables are almost as much a fixture in cryptographic 
literature as Vigenere tables. Porta’s table is based on a 22-letter Latin alphabet with the letter K omitted. 
In Porta’s table but not in the Ziruph table letters from the first half of the alphabet are paired only with 
letters from the last half. 

36 There appears to be one deviation from this pattern. In the seventeenth row of both Reuchlin’s and 
Agrippa’s tables the letters sade and resh are paired, as are tet and taw. The rule used to produce the rest 
of the table would pair taw with sade and pair tet with resh. 

37 British Library, Additional MS 6782, fols. 27, 28, with associated calculation on fol. 57. These are 
briefly described in John W. Shirley, Thomas Harriot: a Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 
1983), 419-420, who apparently did not understand the calculation on fol. 57. I intend to address these 
Harriot tables in a subsequent paper. 



PART FOUR: DEE’S CONVERSATIONS WITH ANGELS 



GYORGY E. SZONYI 

PARACELSUS, SCRYING, 
AND THE LINGUA ADAMICA 

Contexts for John Dee’s Angel Magic* 


1. DEE, HISTORY OF SCIENCE, AND MAGIC 

Two recent monographs have shown once again that John Dee is worthy of the 
attention of scholars from many different fields of studies, since he was himself 
involved in the whole spectrum of Renaissance scholarship. 1 In his early career he had 
had a humanistic orientation and focused on mathematics but from the 1580s he gave 
up these endeavours and almost entirely involved himself with angel magic, that is to 
say spiritual seances, or in Dee’s terminology “angelic conversations”. During these 
“conversations”, Dee - aided by certain rituals, paraphernalia (including a crystal ball 
or “shewstone”), and a medium, or “scryer” - tried to gain various pieces of 
information from the celestial beings. This last activity of his, documented in his 
spiritual diaries written for the most part during his sojourns in East-Central Europe, is 
also of interest for scholars of Poland and Hungary, and his seances have often been 
commented upon by historians. Researchers have nevertheless been perplexed by the 
apparently sudden turn which transformed the venerable scientist into an eccentric 
enthusiast. Approaches from the viewpoint of the history of science - which, until 
recently constituted the majority of Dee scholarship - found this phenomenon difficult 
to come to terms with, and at best a superficial explanation was advanced, according to 
which the humanist became disappointed in science (based on rational principles and 
logic), and - in a similar way to Doctor Faustus, although avoiding the direct contact 
with Satan - could only imagine achieving his intellectual goals with the help of 
supernatural powers. 2 This explanation seems to have some grounding in Dee’s own 
statement addressed to Emperor Rudolph II in which he tried to summarise his mission: 

Hereupon I began to declare that All my life time I had spent in learning: but for this forty 
years continually, in sundry manners, and in divers Countries, with great pain, care, and 
cost, I had from degree to degree sought to come by the best knowledge that man might 
attain unto in the world: and I found (at length) that neither any man living, nor any Book 
I could yet meet withal, was able to teach me those truths I desired and longed for: And 
therefore I concluded with my self, to make intercession and prayer to the giver of 
wisdom and all good things, to send me such wisdom, as I might know the natures of his 
creatures; and also enjoy means to use them to his honour and glory. 3 


* I wrote this paper at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbtittel, Germany. I am grateful to the 
Mellon Foundation for the three months’ scholarship and the staff of the Library for their most helpful 
assistance in my work. Special thanks are due to William H. Sherman and Stephen Clucas whose 
comments on the draft have contributed to the improvement of the final version. 

207 

S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, 207-229. 

© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



208 


G. E. SZONYI 


Very few efforts have been made to embrace Dee’s scientific experiments and angel 
magic in their entirety and interconnectedness, especially given that such an exam¬ 
ination would seem to promise little benefit for the history of science. Until recently, 
interpreters of Dee’s magic have tried to underline the importance of magic as a vital 
precondition to the development of the scientific revolution, and with this consideration 
in mind, Frances Yates invented the term, “Rosicrucian enlightenment”. 4 After some 
initial enthusiasm the Yates thesis was severely challenged by historians of science, 5 
and, although Clulee and Sherman have to some extent successfully restored Dee’s 
place in the distinguished gallery of the history of science, this would hardly work for 
his magic. My suggestion is to shift the focus of interest from history of science to 
cultural anthropology and the history of mentality, by asking in what way Dee’s 
scientific activities inspired his visionary and occult programme. Seeking the company 
of angels may seem an eccentric monomania for the enlightened researcher; indeed, 
some historians have even suggested that Dee had become mentally ill. 6 By contrast, 
anthropologists and historians of mentality have leamt how deep the roots of occult 
thinking were in the world picture of the sixteenth century. Such an approach may 
throw fresh light on the strange ambitions and practices of this extraordinary English¬ 
man. Furthermore, it may also provide us with relevant tools to measure the lasting 
attraction of the occult in our own age. 

In the following essay I am going to examine Dee’s shift from natural to occult 
science from the viewpoints of both the history of science and historical anthropology 
and I will argue that the gulf between the two is much less significant than it may 
appear from existing studies. First I shall look at the pre-modem traditions of gaining 
magical knowledge and in this respect I believe it is relevant to re-explore Paracelsus’s 
epistemology. An examination of the magic of Agrippa and Paracelsus leads us to the 
interrelatedness of Renaissance intellectual magic and popular occultism, with the latter 
having been entirely neglected by the great Warburgian intellectual historians. A typo¬ 
logical analysis of the visions in the angelic diaries will prove that Dee’s ultimate 
“scientific” goal remained unchanged throughout his life: he aspired to universal know¬ 
ledge, trying out alternative ways of investigation, finally ending up in the search for 
the angelic language. In the concluding sections I shall try to re-map Dee’s standing in 
intellectual history in relation to two great seventeenth-century trends: the scientific 
revolution and the new esotericism (or, as Frances Yates somewhat simplistically 
referred to it, the “Rosicrucian Enlightenment”). 

Recent studies have done a lot to refine the cmde divide between the “scientist- 
Dee” and the “magus-Dee”, and this also applies to the chronology of his career. 7 
Yewbrey and Whitby called attention to the fact that Dee did not start his angel magic 
in 1581, as had been earlier supposed. According to his first angelic diary he had 
already employed a scryer in 1579 and, commenting on this, he even added: 

From the year 1579 usually in this ma nn er: in Latin, or English; (but around the year 1569 
in another and special way: sometimes on behalf of Raphael, sometimes on behalf of 
Michael it has been most pleasing to me to pour out prayers to God: God works his 
wonderful mercy in me (est circa annum 1569 alio et peculiari modo: interdum pro 
Raphaele, interdum pro Michaele ad Deum preces fundere: mihi gratissimum fuit). 8 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


209 


This fact is important because in that year, during 1569 and 1570, Dee wrote one of 
his most ambitious scientific works, the Mathematicall Praeface , in which - on the 
occasion of introducing the Elements of Euclid to the English reader - he attempted a 
synthetical survey of all the mathematical sciences. The question thus becomes even 
more relevant: what was the relationship, if any, between Dee’s scholarly thinking and 
the angelic conversations? 

The Mathematicall Praeface offered a scheme for presenting a general hierarchy of 
sciences and Dee made it clear that the ultimate end of any science should be the 
understanding of God’s creative genius. This means that Dee’s work is not in any sense 
a technical textbook or a manual for engineers, although it does not entirely lack a 
practical dimension. In the Praeface Dee emphasised the cosmic significance of mathe¬ 
matics and suggested that the mathematical practitioner had the power to become a 
magus, capable of exaltation , the emulation of God. The “Mathematicien” is repre¬ 
sented as a priest of the new science: 

By Numbers [...] we may both winde and draw our selues into the inward and deepe 
search and vew, of all creatures distinct vertues, natures, properties, and Formes : And 
also, farder, arise, clime, ascend, and mount vp (with Speculatiue winges) in spirit, to 
behold in the Glas of Creation, the Forme of Formes , the Exemplar Number of all thinges 
Numerable : both visible and inuisible, mortall and immortall, Corporall and Spirituall. 9 

When mapping the hierarchy of the sciences, Dee gave first place to a discipline 
called archemastrie. “So that, this Art, is no fantasticall Imagination: as some Sophister 
might [...] dash your honest desire and Courage, from beleuing these thinges, so 
vnheard of, so meruaylous, & of such Importance.” 10 Dee also mentions the auxiliary 
sciences completing the work of Archemastrie: 

To this Science, doth the Science Alnirangiat, great Seruice. Muse nothyng of this name. I 
chaunge not the name, so vsed, and in Print, published by other: beyng a name, propre to 
the Science. Vnder this, commeth Ars Sintrillia, by Artephius, briefly written. But the 
chief Science, of the Archemaster, (in this world) as yet knowen, is an other (as it were) 

OPTICAL Science: wherof, the name shall be told (God willyng) when I shall haue some, 

(more iust) occasion, therof, to Discourse. 11 

Nicholas Clulee, writing about Dee’s natural philosophy, has identified all three of 
the above-mentioned sciences as magical practices. The expression “alnirangiat” 
derives from Arabic sources: the term “nlrangiyat” meant a certain magical procedure; 
in the Arabic version of the Picatrix the term “nlrang” referred to magical incantations 
used to invoke heavenly powers. It is also used in connection with magical images or 
talismans. Dee’s source for this term, as Clulee has shown was Avicenna’s De 
divisionibus scientiarum , in which “scientia alnirangiaf is listed among the sub¬ 
ordinate branches of natural science. Here it is a form of natural magic, for the mani¬ 
pulation of the hidden virtues of things. Dee possessed Avicenna’s work in his library 
and from the surviving copy we know that he underlined the word alnirangiat and 
glossed it in the margin: “magicae”. 12 

The next science mentioned by Dee is the ars sintrillia which has been connected 
with the name of a medieval author, Artephius, who is often referred to in numerous 
treatises but whose identity is unclear. According to Dee’s catalogue, in 1556 he 
possessed a manuscript which contained Artephius’s Ars sintrillia but this treatise is not 



210 


G. E. SZONYI 


extant. 13 The only clue scholars have been able to track down is a remark of William of 
Auvergne, who mentions a certain Artesius known for his ability to conjure up visions 
by placing a glossy sword over a water-basin so that the glittering of the two caused the 
viewer to see strange sights. 14 The context of Dee’s note makes this conjecture plausible 
since immediately after the reference to Artephius he lists “opticall science” which, as 
Clulee rightly points out, involved not only physics but also crystallomancy, or as it 
was more commonly known, “scrying”. As we have seen, Dee started his scrying 
experiments around the time of the writing of the Mathematicall Praeface and his 
scientific treatise suggests that, at this point in time, he saw no fundamental division 
between natural philosophy and spiritualism. 

Before touching upon the various traditions of crystallomancy in the Renaissance, I 
want to refer to another aspect of “opticall science” which is also pertinent in Dee’s 
works. As early as 1558, in his first synthesising work (Propcedeumata Aphoristica) he 
refers to “catoptrics” of which he wrote: 

If you were skilled in ‘catoptrics’, you would be able, by art, to imprint the rays of any star 
much more strongly upon any matter subjected to it than nature itself does [...]. And this 
secret is not of much less dignity than the very august astronomy of the philosophers, 
called inferior [i.e. alchemy], whose symbols, enclosed in a certain Monad and taken from 
my theories, I send to you along with this treatise. 15 

Catoptrics in classical natural philosophy meant the study of the radiation and 
reflection of light and it was Roger Bacon in the Middle Ages who devoted much work 
to this field. 16 As we know, Dee was most interested in Bacon’s work and it was partly 
this influence which raised his ambition to catch the power of the stars by the help of 
mirrors, interpreting this activity as a scientific version of ancient talismanic magic. 
Talismanic magic which had been much discussed in medieval Arabic and Latin 
sources, was reinvented by the Florentine neoplatonists, 17 and its scientific application 
was proposed by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus. Of these magical images, 
or “sigils” Agrippa noted: 18 

So great is the extent, power and efficacy of the Celestiall bodies, that not only naturall 
things, but also artificiall when they are rightly exposed to those above, do presently suffer 
by that most potent agent, and obtain a wonderfull life which oftentimes gives them an 
admirable Celestiall vertue [...]. Such an image, best prepared to receive the operations 
and powers of the Celestial bodies and figures, and instantly receiveth the Heavenly gift 
into it self; then it constantly worketh on another thing, and other things do yeeld obedien¬ 
ce to it. 19 

Agrippa developed an intricate typology of these magical symbols from direct 
emblematic representations of celestial demons through traditional signs of planets, 
metals and zodiacal signs to the numerologically symbolic cabalistical characters or 
sigils. One of his notable examples describes the power of planetary amulets: 

This fortunate Moon being engraven on Silver, renders the bearer thereof grateful, 
amiable, pleasant, cheerful, honored, removing all malice, and ill will. It causeth security 
in a journey, increase of riches, and health of body, drives away enemies and other evil 
things from what place thou pleasest; and if it be an unfortunate Moon engraven in a plate 
of Lead, where ever it shall be buried, it makes that place unfortunate, and the inhabitants 
thereabouts, as also Ships, Rivers, Fountains, Mills, and it makes every man unfortunate. 20 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


211 


2. PARACELSUS AND MAGICAL WAYS OF KNOWING 

Dee scholars have only recently become aware of the fact that Paracelsus may have had 
a much greater influence on the English doctor’s natural philosophy than has previously 
been believed. Frances Yates systematically overlooked Paracelsus in her accounts of 
Christian magic, and Peter French, although he noticed Dee’s massive holdings of 
Paracelsica, gave only superficial references to the philosophy of Paracelsus and its 
influence on Dee’s system of thought. 21 More surprisingly, Paracelsus has only one 
mention even in Clulee’s monograph on Dee’s natural philosophy. Roberts and 
Watson, in their edition of Dee’s library catalogues, have revealed the fact that Dee 
possessed an unusually large collection of Paracelsica which he neatly grouped 
according to size and language in his inventory: “Paracelsi libri compacti” (R&W 1461- 
1501), “Paracelsici libri latine compacti” ( R&W 1502-1522), “Paracelsici libri non 
compacti” ( R&W 2220-2240), “Germanici” ( R&W 2241-2275), etc. 22 Dee’s interest in 
Paracelsus can also be seen in his entry in the album amicorum of the famous Swiss 
natural scientist, Conrad Gesner whom Dee visited in Zurich in April 1563. In the 
album, next to Dee’s signature, Gesner commemorated his English guest’s great know¬ 
ledge of and interest in Paracelsus. 23 From a 1562 edition of Paracelsus ( R&W 1476) 
annotated by Dee in 1594, we leam that he was preoccupied with the German sage even 
in his later career and discussed it with his disciples, Mr. Barker and Mr. Alped. The 
names of his good angels, Anchorus, Anachor, and Anilos, noted in the same book, 
indicate the interrelatedness of Dee’s interest in Paracelsus and angel magic. 24 

In this context, it is pertinent to juxtapose Agrippa’s remarks on “sigils” with what 
Paracelsus wrote about images and his definition of Gamaaea : 

OF IMAGES [Imaginum]. This science represents the properties of heaven and impresses 
them on images, so that an image of great efficacy is compounded, moving itself and 
significant. Images of this kind cure exceptional diseases, and avert many remarkable 
accidents, such as wounds caused by cutting or puncturing. A like virtue is not found in 
any herbs. 

OF gamahei [gemaheorum] . These are stones graven according to the face of heaven. 

Thus prepared they are useful against wounds, poisons, and incantations. They render 
persons invisible, and display other qualities which, without this science, Nature of herself 
cannot exhibit. 25 

Let us compare this to Dee’s thesis in Propcedeumata Aphoristica: 

The stars and celestial powers are like seals whose characters are imprinted differently by 
reason of differences in the elemental matter [...]. You will therefore consider talismans 
rather attentively, and other still greater things [Hinc Gamaaeas considerabis attentius, 
aliaque maiora]. 26 

and with the Monas Hieroglyphica , written in 1564: 

This our hieroglyphic monad possesses, hidden away in its innermost centre, a terrestrial 
body. It [the monad] teaches without words, by what divine force that [terrestrial body] 
should be actuated [...]. When this Gamaaea has (by God’s will) been concluded, [...] he 
who fed [the monad] will first himself go away into a metamorphosis [ quo finito 
Progressu: qui aluit, in METAMORPHOSIM, Primus Ipse abibit ] and will afterwards very 
rarely be held by mortal eye. 27 

It becomes clear from this otherwise obscure passage that the monad as a symbol 
has two levels of reference. One points to the earthly material which during the 



212 


G. E. SZONYI 


alchemical process is clarified and becomes supernatural. In its other meaning the 
monad is a talisman (“Gamaaea”) by the help of which the magus, who so far has been 
feeding and fuelling the oven of the opus magnum , undergoes a transmutation himself, 
and escaping the prison of matter ascends to the level of transcendental reality. The 
above quotations from Dee redirect us to Paracelsian contexts, since in his various tracts 
connected with his great later work, the Astronomia magna sive Philosophia sagax the 
German doctor made it clear: 

Man is bom of the earth, therefore he also has in him the nature of the earth. But later, in 
his new birth, he is of God and in this form receives divine nature. Just as man in nature is 
illuminated by the sidereal light that he may know nature, so he is illuminated by the Holy 
Ghost that he may know God in his essence. For no one can know God unless he is of 
divine nature. 28 

And indeed, it is in this similarity to God that man can himself become a creator of 
things, even more powerful than the upper and lower firmaments: 

Thoughts create a new heaven, a new firmament, a new source of energy, from which new 
arts flow [...]. When a man undertakes to create something, he establishes a new heaven, 
as it were, and from it the work that he desires to create flows into him [...]. For such is the 
immensity of man that he is greater than heaven and earth. 29 

Creation, the establishment of wondrous things, happens through magic - “after all, 
God has permitted magic, and this is a sign that we may use it; it is also a sign of what 
we are”, 30 and Paracelsus in his writings introduces magic according to the three tiers of 
the Agrippan model, from magia naturalis through planetary, astrological magic up to 
mystical rebirth: “He who imitates the image of God will conquer the stars”. 31 This is 
nothing else but the doctrine of exaltatio , or Man’s deification through white magic, 
also proposed by Paracelsus’s contemporary and compatriot, Agrippa, in his De occulta 
philosophia : 

Man being united to God, all things which are in man, are united, especially his minde, 
then his spirits and animal powers, and vegetative faculty, and the Elements are to the 
matter, drawing with it self even the body, whose form it hath been, leading it forth into a 
better condition, and an heavenly nature, even until it be glorified into Immortality. And 
this which we have spoken is the peculiar gift of man, to whom this dignity of the divine 
image is proper, and common to no other creature. 32 

At this point Agrippa connects the topic of deification with an alchemical parallel 
which can be related to the alchemical subtext of Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica : 

Geber in his summ of Alchimy teacheth, that no man can come to the perfection of this 
art, who shall not know the principles of it in himself; but by how much the more every 
one shall know himself, by so much he obtaineth the greater power of attracting it, and by 
so much operateth greater and more wonderfull things, and will ascend to so great 
perfection, that he is made the Son of God, and is transformed into that Image which is 
God, and is united with him, which is not graunted to Angels, the world, or any creature, 
but to man only. 33 

The highest magic is angel-magic and in both Agrippa and Paracelsus we find 
Dee’s ambitions prefigured: 

He who inherits God’s wisdom walks on water without wetting his feet; for in the true art 
inherited from God, man is like an angel. But what will wet an angel? Nothing. Similarly, 
nothing will wet the wise man. God is powerful and He wills it that His power be revealed 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


213 


to men and to angels in the wisdoms of the arts. He wills it that the world and the earth be 
like Heaven. 34 

In fact, this was Dee’s most ambitious magical programme: he aspired to this state 
of exaltatio in order to fully understand the work of Creation and become God’s 
partner. His whole scientific program was subordinated to this goal, and this is why he 
was experimenting with astrological catoptrics as well as with the monad, extracted and 
transmuted from talismanic magic into geometry and alchemy. 


3. FROM NEOPLATONIC TO POPULAR CONTEXTS OF MAGIC 

It would be a mistake, however, to see the source of Dee’s magic lying solely in the 
hermetic neoplatonism of Agrippa or Paracelsus. What makes his esoteric experiments 
fascinating is the ease of syncretism with which he freely exploited quite distinct 
traditions, from medieval Baconian magic through Old Testament traditions to some 
semi-scientific, semi-popular practices of dubious origin. I have already mentioned the 
technique of Artephius (“ars sintrillia”) which operated with glittering mirrors in order 
to bring the viewer into a trance where logic is suspended. The ancient and venerable 
nature of this practice derived its authority from the Bible where, in Genesis 44.5, we 
read about Joseph who hides a silver chalice in Benjamin’s pouch saying, “Is not this it 
in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth?” 35 In the Second Book of 
Moses we learn that the priestly garment made for Aaron contained a golden breastplate 
with twelve shining jewels, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel. This shining 
breastplate could also be used for purposes of divination (helping the gazing prophet to 
fall into a trance) and it is in this sense that medieval lapidaries refer to it. 36 Paracelsus 
also speaks about a particular way of divination by using shining surfaces. He calls it 
ars beryllistica which aims at gaining visions from diamonds, mirrors and other glossy 
materials, such as black coal: 

VISIONS. This species sees in crystals, mirrors, polished surfaces, and the like, things that 
are hidden, secret, present or future, which are present just as though they appeared in 
bodily presence. 37 

The most important difference between catoptromantia and crystallomantia was 
that in the former the operator - after proper preparations and sufficient fasting - did 
not want to conjure spirits in the mirror, rather he expected visions relating to the future. 
In scrying, the magus or his medium definitely aimed at calling spiritual beings (angels 
or the spirits of already dead persons), hoping to gain information, not necessarily about 
the future. It looks as though Dee possessed instruments for both kinds of magic: a 
shining black obsidian mirror may have been used to practise ars sintrillia or 
catoptromantia , that is divination from mirrors, 38 while his much exploited crystal ball 
served the purposes of scrying. What becomes perplexing for the cultural historian is 
that Dee, having been acquainted with the most complex magical theories and 
techniques, finally ended up practising the crudest divination, that is crystallomantia, 
and, having pursued it till the last days of his life, lost no faith in it at all. 

Crystallomantia , or scrying, was relatively neglected in the works of Renaissance 
humanists, although some references can be found in the works of Trithemius and 
others, in a context following the anti-magical condemnations of medieval authorities 



214 


G. E. SZONYI 


and encyclopedias, such as John of Salisbury’s Policraticus, or Gregorius Reisch’s 
Margarita philosophica nova. 39 It seems that by the sixteenth century, crystallomantia 
had become most widespread in popular culture as a common form of magic. We have 
two groups of sources to document such practices. Humanist literature, on the one 
hand, has anecdotes recording these kinds of magical practices. Girolamo Cardano, for 
example, tells a story about the conjuration of a young scryer who sees angels in a 
crystal by the help of Saint Helena. 40 Another type of source-material for the popular 
usage of the crystal ball (or beryl , or sphera) is the protocols of witchcraft trials and 
ecclesiastical visitations. In my own city, Szeged in Hungary, judges would regularly 
ask the suspect as late as 1730: “Wie hast du aus Kristall, aus Glas, Spiegeln den 
Menschen (ohne Schaden) gewahrsagt?” 41 

Needless to say, scrying was strictly damned by both secular and ecclesiastical law. 
In England law-court processes took place in 1467, 1534, and 1549 and the 1541 statute 
against conjuration and witchcraft specifically prohibited it. 42 Since scrying was mostly 
used for finding lost or stolen property, the possibility of financial gain meant that the 
law was often disregarded. Although such practices were strictly private, almost all 
astrologers and alchemists can be suspected of having exercised them. Another 
Elizabethan astrologer and “magus”, Simon Forman kept a journal not unlike Dee’s, 
and he noted about the year 1584: “a reasonable, good, and quiet yere; but I had certain 
braulles and sclaunders fell out against me aboute detecting of one that had stollen 
certain thinges, whereby I was like to have bin spoiled”. As if he were dissociating 
himself from scrying at this point but by 1588 he openly admitted that he “began to 
practise necromancy and to call angells and spirits.” 43 

It is worth noting that the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century manuscript literature 
abounds in secret diaries, notes and copies of grimoires, revealing the widespread 
magical practices of the day. Journals of actual divination are nevertheless more of a 
rarity: interested amateurs seemingly did not get much beyond collecting and copying 
magical materials, prayers, incantations, and books of rituals which, at least theo¬ 
retically, were intended to equip the reader for contacting the spirit world. 44 

Dee seems to have become interested in divination in 1569 and started scrying in 
1579. His “glass” is first mentioned on 10 March 1575, when he notes a significant 
event in his diary: 

The Queens Majestie with her most honourable Privy Councell, and other her lordes and 
nobility, came purposely to have visited my library; but finding that my wife was wit hin 
four houres before buried out of the house, her Majestie refused to come in; but willed me 
to fetch my glass so famous, and to shew unto her some of the properties of it, which I 
did; her Majestie being taken downe from her horse (by the Earle of Leicester, Master of 
the horse, by the wall of Mortlack), did see some of the properties of that glass, to her 
Majestie’s great contentment and delight, and so in most gracious ma nn er did thank me, 

&c. 45 

The first well-documented instance of scrying with the help of a medium, Barnabas 
Saul, took place on 22 December 1581. 46 Prior to this, Dee may have developed more 
interest in this kind of magic during his continental journey in 1578, when he visited 
some German courts with the purpose of consulting medical doctors about the Queen’s 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


215 


condition. Stopping over in Hamburg and Berlin, finally, on 15 December 1578, he met 
Leonhard Thumeysser, the famous doctor, alchemist and interpreter of Paracelsus in 
Frankfurt-am-Oder. 47 He might have taken the meeting as an omen, since at that time 
the learned doctor came under attack of conjurations and crystal-magic. A year later 
Franz Joel, a doctor of Greifswald published a book about witches and black magic in 
which he openly attacked Thumeysser as a stubborn sorcerer whose source of 
knowledge - especially of foreign languages, including Chaldee, Hebrew and Sanskrit 
- was a daemon, appearing in his showstone. 48 Thumeysser had to write a passionate 
apology, very much in the manner of Dee’s own “Digression Apologeticall” in the 
Mathematicall Preface of 1570: “And for these, and such like mameilous Actes and 
Feates, Naturally, Mathematically, and Mechanically, wrought and contriued: ought 
any honest Student, and Modest Christian Philosopher, be counted, & called a 
Coniurer?” 49 

Barnabas Saul - a household servant or a laboratory assistant - became Dee’s scryer 
after having complained to his master about a spirit which had tortured him at 
midnight. 50 Dee, being himself ready for the parapsychological experience, employed 
the following prayer-formula, (suggesting that he had had vague experiments with 
mediums before) “perceived by some slight experience, with two diverse persons, that 
thou [God] hadst a special care to give me thy light, and tmth, by thy holy and tme 
ministers Angelicall and Spirituall.” 51 

Another entry from the period prior to meeting Saul reinforces this hint: “I had sight 
in KpoGTa^Aoo [i.e. crystallo ] offered me, and I saw”. 52 This early personal experience 
was not continued later: he scarcely saw the visions himself, they remained com¬ 
municated through his scryers. 

4. SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMICA 

As has been mentioned, Dee pursued angel magic until his death. During these years he 
had three regular scryers, of whom he worked longest with Edward Kelley who 
accompanied him on his journey to East-Central European courts. As for the general 
contents of the angelic conversations, they differed significantly from the average 
scrying sessions, which usually aimed at finding thieves or lost property. Dee hoped to 
gain mystical knowledge through the angelic conversations which would arm him with 
universal knowledge. To possess this knowledge, he believed, one had to learn the lost 
primordial language, the lingua adamica , a medium of direct communication with God 
which Adam spoke when he named the parts and things of the created universe. 53 
Consequently, his ultimate scientific programme became centred on the acquisition of 
this universal language because, as he wrote, “the logos of the creative universe works 
by rules so that man, godly minded and bom of God, may leam by straightforward 
work and by theological and mystical language”. 54 

Dee’s ideas on primitive language seem to have been influenced by one of his 
favourite authors, Johannes Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim, and a future task for Dee 
scholarship would be to look at his speculations on the angelic language in the context 
of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century deliberations on a universal or artificial language. 



216 


G. E. SZONYI 


It is noteworthy that Dee hardly appears in studies on this topic, 55 perhaps because of 
the curious turn of his thinking, namely, that since his pursuits concerning the above 
goal in the terrain of natural sciences remained futile, he turned to angel magic and 
during the conversations repeatedly and passionately petitioned God to order his 
heavenly servants to share secret knowledge with him. Umberto Eco’s recent book is 
the first attempt to place Dee in the context of universal language schemes and Eco also 
offers interesting links between Dee and his acquaintance, Guillaume Postel, who also 
asserted that every “demonstration of the world” results from geometric elements, such 
as point, lines, circles and triangles. 56 One immediately remembers Dee’s argument in 
the Monas Hieroglyphica concerning the origin of the alphabet: “the first and mystical 
letters of the Hebrews, the Greeks, and the Latins, issued from God alone and were 
[by Him] entrusted to mortals; [also] the shapes of all those [letters] are derived from 
points, straight lines and the circumference of circles,” 57 and these considerations again 
clearly establish the link between Dee’s scientific and magical programmes. 

In this respect, the most interesting parts of the angelic diaries are the so-called 
Book of Enoch f the 48 claves angelicce (1584) and De heptarchia mystica (1588) 59 in 
which one finds invocations and complicated tables, summarizing the orders of angels. 
Most of this is written in hardly comprehensible “angelic language”, although some 
scholars of occultism claim to have already penetrated into the depth of its meaning. 60 
Since most of the Enochian magic material has been included in Meric Casaubon’s 
printed edition of the angelic diaries, 61 one can use this collection to set up a typology of 
Dee’s angelic visions: 

1. Verbal descriptions of visions of the divine cosmic order and the world of angels 
sustaining it. On 20 June 1584, Dee and Kelley received such a vision in Cracow: 

There appeared to him [E.K.] four very fair Castles, standing in the four parts of the 
world: out of which he heard the sound of a Trumpet [...]. Out of every Gate then issued 
one Trumpeter, whose Trumpets were of strange form, wreathed, and growing bigger and 
bigger toward the end [...]. After the Trumpeter followed three Ensign bearers. After them 
six ancient men, with white beards and staves in their hands [...]. The 4 houses, are the 4 
Angels of the Earth, which are the 4 Overseers, and Watch-towers, that the eternal God in 
his providence hath placed, against the usurping blasphemy, misuse, and stealth of the 
wicked and great enemy, the Devil [...]. In each of these Houses, the Chief Watchman, is a 
mighty Prince, a mighty Angel of the Lord : which hath under him 5 Princes [...]. The seals 
and authorities of these Houses, are confirmed in the beginning of the World. Unto every 
one of them, be 4 characters, Tokens of the presence of the Son of God: by whom all 
things were made in Creation.). 62 

2. Descriptions of rituals and magical invocations, either verbally communicated by the 
Angels - mediated by Kelley, or seen by Kelley as visions in the crystal: 

E.K. There appeareth in the stone, like a white Curtain all over the stone: After awhile it 
was drawn, and layed on the back-side of the stone, on a heap together. Now here standeth 
one in a white Garment, with a white Cerclet about his head like a white smock, I 
remember not that ever I saw this Creature before, his Garment is tucked up [...]. Now is 
there fire come, and hath consumed this Creature all to pieces, and he is fall’n down to 
ashes. Now he riseth up, and he is brighter then he was before. 

[margin: A: Quasi figura de terra renovanda .] [...] So doth the Glory comfort the just, and 
they rise again with a threefold glorie. 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


217 


A. A place was made. 

E.K. Now he spreadeth the aire, or openeth it before him, and there appeareth before him a 
square Table. Now he taketh off the Table a black Carpet. Now he taketh off a green 
Carpet. Now he taketh off a white Carpet. Now he taketh off a red Cloath. And now the 
Table appeareth to be made of earth, as Potter’s Clay, very raw earth. 

[margin: A. The Table of the Earth. He taketh off the coloured cloaths in due order, re¬ 
specting the four parts of the World.] 

E.K. The Table hath four feet, of which two touch the ground, and two do not [...]. The 
Table is square. E.K. On the left comer (farthest from E.K.) did a T appear on the Table: 

Out of the top of this T do four beams issue of clear collour bright). 63 

3. A considerable portion of the angelic communications consists of obscure historical 
prognostications in the Enochian style of prophecy. The predictions foretell the coming 
of a new age in which Dee and Kelley would have an important role since they have 
been chosen by God to perform certain rituals. Dee is quite explicit about this when he 
tells Emperor Rudolph: 

[God’s] holy Angels, for these two years and a half, have used to inform me: and have 
finished such works in my hands, to be seen, as no mans heart could have wished for so 
much: yea they have brought me a Stone of that value, that no earthly Kingdom is of that 
worthinesse as to be compared to the vertue or dignity thereof, &c. [...] The Angel of the 
Lord hath appeared to me, and rebuketh you for your sins. If you will hear me, and believe 
me, you shall Triumph: if you will not hear me, The Lord, the God that made Heaven and 
Earth, (under whom you breath, and have your spirit) putteth his foot against your breast, 
and will throw you headlong down from your seat. Moreover, the Lord hath made this 
Covenant with me (by oath) that he will do and perform. If you will forsake your 
wickidnesse, and turn unto him, your Seat shall be the greatest that ever was: and the 
Devil shall become your prisoner: Which Devil, I did conjecture, to be the Great Turk, 

(said I) This my Commission, is from God. 64 

4. Finally, those pieces of angelic information belonging to the fourth category, which 
were meant as a direct instruction of the lingua adamica. These messages com¬ 
municated names of angels as well as ritualistic expressions in the Enochian language 
of a cabalistic nature, each letter having numerical equivalents. Dee’s idee fixe was that 
the comprehension of these numerical relations would lead to the ultimate 
enlightenment. That Dee’s mathematical expertise did not desert him during his 
visionary episodes, can be seen in the following passage where he accuses the angel 
Nalvage of arithmetical miscalculation. Kelley was certainly a far less able math¬ 
ematician than his master, but his (or the Angel’s) wit was more than a match for Dee’s 
suspicion: 

Nal[vage]. Pray [...] A. We prayed. 

There is an error in the last, not in the Number, but in the Letter. I will first go through the 
Letters, and after come to the Numbers. How many words have you received this day? 

A. Thirteen, where of Iaida was said to be the last of the call. 

Nal. [...] They be more worth than the Kingdom o/ Poland. Be patient, for these things are 
wonderful. 

N ( The number must needs go to) the sixth, descending 309. 

A The 7 th ascending 360. 

O The 9 th ascending 1000. 

O The 13 th ascending 1050. 

V The 17 th ascending 2004. It is Vooan. It may be sounded Vaoan. 

Adde those last Numbers [...] 

A. Vooan is spoken with them that fall, but Vaoan with them that are, and are glorified. 

The devils have lost the dignity of their sounds. 



218 


G. E. SZONYI 


A. They make 4723. 

NAL. [...] It is called the Mystical roote in the highest ascendent of transmutation. 

A. These phrases are dark; when it shall please God they may be made plain. 

NAL. [...] It is the square of the Philosophers work. 

A. you said it was a roote. 

NAL. [...] So it is a roote square. 65 

After this somewhat humorous quotation it is worth returning to a longer passage 
which deals with more theoretical issues concerning the power of numbers and the 
Cabalistical ur-language. At the session held in Cracow on 21 April 1584 it was the 
Archangel Gabriel himself who joined Nalvage to deliver the teachings to Dee and his 
scryer: 


Gab[riel]. [...] Every Letter signifieth the member of the substance whereof it speaketh. 

Every word signifieth the quiddity of the substance. The Letters are separated, and in 
confusion: and therefore, are by numbers gathered together [...]. 

E.K. Whether is this Language known in any part of the World or no? if it be, where and 
to whom? 

Gab. Man in his Creation, being made an Innocent, was also authorised and made 

partaker of the Power and Spirit of God: whereby he not onely did know all things under 
his Creation and spoke of them properly, naming them as they were: but also was 
partaker of our [i.e. the angels’] presence and society, yea a speaker of the mysteries of 
God; yea, with God himself: so that in innocency the power of his partakers with God, 
and us his good Angles [sic], was exalted, and so became holy in the sight of God until 
that Coronzon (for so is the true name of that mighty Devil) envying his felicity, [...] 
began to assail him and [... Man] was driven forth (as your Scriptures record) unto the 
Earth [...] where being as dumb and not able to speak, he began to learn of necessity the 
Language in the which [...] he uttered and delivered to his posterity, the nearest 
knowledge he had of God his Creatures: and from his own self divided his speech into 
three parts, twelve, three, and seven: the number whereof remaineth, but the true forms 
and pronounciations want; and therefore is not of that force that it was in his own dignity, 
much lesse to be compared with this that we deliver, which Adam verily spake in inno¬ 
cency, and was never uttered nor disclosed to man since till now, wherein the power of 
God must work , and wisdom in her true kind be delivered: which are not to be spoken of 
in any other thing, neither to be talked of with mans imaginations; for as this Work and 
Gift is of God, which is all power, so doth he open it in a tongue ofpower [...]. 66 

This “tongue of power” became the ultimate object of Dee’s investigation, and he 
grew so obsessed with his search that he not only abandoned his scientific experiments, 
but also neglected his humanist philological caution and overlooked the serious 
warnings against angel magic to be found even in the works of his favourite occult 
authors. I have already referred to the Bible’s reservations concerning divination, 67 but 
he could have easily found similar warnings in Trithemius or in Paracelsus: 

Spirits often teach those persons who deal with them to perform certain ceremonies, to 
speak certain words and names in which there is no meaning, and they do all such things 
[...] to have some sport at the expense of credulous persons. They are seldom what they 
pretend to be, [...] on the whole, all these spirits surpass each other in deception and lies. 68 




PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


219 


5. HISTORICAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES 

The Eastem-European context of Dee’s prophecies has been discussed elsewhere. 69 The 
present paper aims at exploring the pertinence of the angelic conversations to the 
history of mentality and to cultural anthropology in relation to what we know about the 
systems of science, knowledge, and beliefs in the Renaissance. Areas of further 
investigation might include: 

1. An examination of the reasons why Dee, who began his career as a serious natural 
scientist, could devote himself entirely to crystal gazing, and how this activity satisfied 
his desire for universal knowledge. This question would benefit from more extensive 
comparative study of Dee’s prophecies in the context of a wide range of sixteenth- 
century traditions and practices: the revived interest in Enochian writings as well as in 
medieval prophecies such as those of Joachim of Fiore; Paracelsus’s obscure Papst- 
bilder prophecies; Guillaume Postel’s highly idiosyncratic visions; some trends of 
Reformation chiliastical mysticism; and, last but not least, the humanist interest in 
classical prophecy as manifested especially in Psellus and Iamblichus. 70 

2. An equally interesting question to address is why, although Dee’s Continental 
mission was far from successful, he was never branded a charlatan, or locked up in an 
asylum like his fellow enthusiast, Guillaume Postel a few decades earlier? Apparently 
Dee, in spite of his occasional financial and existential difficulties, managed to retain 
his dignity and in 1589 he returned to England in relatively luxurious circumstances. 71 

3. Another task is to examine Edward Kelley’s role in generating the visions and the 
whole system of Enochian magic, since Dee appears to have been only a scribe who 
noted down the angelic messages dictated by Kelley. Although many interpreters have 
considered Kelley a fraud who ruthlessly cheated the credulous Dee, 72 a recent un¬ 
orthodox trend of Dee-criticism has suggested that it was actually Dee who victimized 
his scryer. As Geoffrey James writes, “Kelley was forced to stay with Dee because the 
money that the doctor gave him supported Kelley’s wife and brother. It was Dee, not 
Kelley, who was gaining the benefit from the magical ceremonies, for it sated his lust 
for ‘radical truths’.” 73 Whichever interpretation we choose (the extraordinary and 
strained psychotic symbiosis in which the two men spent their days invites rather a 
combination of arguments) we cannot help feeling that Kelley either must have 
believed in the prophecies he was communicating or, if it was all pretence and invent- 
tion, he successfully deceived himself, too. A characteristic and recurring episode was 
recorded by Dee on 24 May 1584 in Cracow: 

A. Because E.K. came not (according as it was bidden yesterday) to follow the Action: I 
went to his Study door, and knocked for him: And I requested him to come; and he 
refused so to do, and gave me a short and resolute answer, That he would never more have 
to do with these Actions [...]. After half an hour and lesse, he came speedily out of his 
Study, and brought in his hand one volume of Cornelius Agrippa his works, and in one 
Chapter of that Book he read the names of Countries and Provinces collected out of 
Ptolomeus (as the Author there noteth). Whereupon he inferred, that our spiritual 
Instructors were Coseners to give us a description of the World, taken out of other Books: 
and therefore he would have no more to do with them. I replied, and said, I am very glad 
that you have a Book of your own, wherein these Geographical names are expressed, such 
as (for the most part) our Instructors had delivered unto us: and that, [...] they (our 
Instructors I mean) are very greatly to be thanked, and to be deemed (in all reasonable 



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G. E. SZONYI 


mens judgements) most friendly [...] I had here brought [Gerardus’s] [...] description 
Geographicall of the whole earthly Globe [...] to the intent he might see the verity of their 
words yesterday delivered unto us. 74 

Dee’s naive logic is wonderful but Kelley’s behavior is no less perplexing if we 
suppose him to have fabricated the visions. In this case he found himself in a situation 
similar to that of Edward Alleyn, leading actor of the Elizabethan age, who had once so 
perfectly identified himself with Doctor Faustus that at the appearance of the stage 
devils he stopped the performance and together with the whole audience spent the rest 
of the evening in fervent prayers. 75 

According to Whitby, Dee’s firm belief in scrying had two principal motivations. 
One was his disappointment in the ordinary natural sciences, in comparison with which 
he considered his crystallomantic operations successful. The other was a paradigm- 
shift which took place within magic during the sixteenth century. Whereas for the 
fifteenth-century Neoplatonic Magus there were clear boundaries between white and 
learned magic on the one hand and popular, superstitious practices on the other, after 
the all-embracing syntheses of Agrippa and Paracelsus the boundaries had become less 
distinct and unambiguous. 76 The Renaissance transformation of natural philosophy and 
science produced an epistemological vacuum which was temporarily filled by various 
kinds of magic. This explains the great popularity and prestige of magic during the 
sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth centuries, and also the readiness of patrons 
to support such experiments. The development of such complex and intellectually 
ambitious alchemical patronage was most characteristic of the German kulturkreis of 
Central Europe, as seen in Emperor Rudolph’s Prague or in some of the German 
princely courts which all had strong connections with their local universities and always 
had a supply of learned enthusiasts (Heidelberg, Kassel, Weikersheim, Wolfenbiittel). 
John Dee, who never enjoyed that kind of patronage in England (as Sherman has 
recently noted, Dee’s rather modest house was his own castle, museum and academy), 
may have easily found such scholarly and intellectual prospects attractive. 77 In fact, he 
had already had first hand experience of European courts before setting out on his long 
journey to Central Europe, since in 1562 he had visited Pozsony (today’s Bratislava in 
Slovakia) and witnessed Emperor Maximilian’s coronation as King of Hungary; then, 
in 1578 he had taken a rather mysterious journey to Berlin and Frankfurt-am-Oder, 
allegedly in connection with the Queen’s health. 78 On his way to Frankfurt he must have 
visited several German princely courts and Kassel would have been a natural stop. 
Kassel was the location of the intriguing court of William of Hesse-Kassel which his 
son, Moritz, soon turned into a centre of hermetic and alchemical research. As we know 
Dee briefly visited Kassel in 1586, 79 and later exchanged letters with both father and son 
(1589 and 1595), 80 and the prospect of German alchemical patronage haunted his 
imagination until his death. It was probably the court at Kassel which was the subject of 
one of his last scrying sessions. Between 11 July and 15 July 1607, during the last 
recorded conferences with Bartholomew Hickman as scryer, the ailing doctor asked his 
angel, Raphael, whether he should put up one more journey to the continent to spread 
God’s message delivered to him in the angelic conversations. The answer was 
ambiguous, as befitted a message from spiritual beings of dubious origin: 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


221 


Raph[ael]. John Dee, thou hast been a Traveller, and God hath ever yet at any time 
provided for thee in all thy Journeys [...] John Dee, he that hath commanded thee to take 
this Journey in hand, he will provide for thee in Germany, or any other Country 
wheresoever thou goest. Therefore let thy good will and liking be in placing thy self, if 
thou wilt be near unto England or far off\...\ And for the good health of thy body, God 
will so carry thee in good health, that thou shalt set forth such service when thou art there 
placed, that shall be thy great comfort unto Gods honour, in making of his marvellous 
works to be known. And thus much for thy comfort through Gods merciful goodness . 81 

The journey never took place, Dee died on 26 March 1609. 

6. BACK TO THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND HISTORIOGRAPHY 

Looking at the relationship between magic and science in the early modem age it would 
be a simplification to claim, as Frances Yates did, that Renaissance neoplatonist magic, 
let alone hermeticism, fostered the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries in a direct way. On the other hand, it is possible to say that in the works (as 
well as in the mind) of Dee and his fellow scientists/magi layers of discursive logic and 
irrationalism, scientific thinking and occultism happily coexisted in a variety of ways 
which would be dangerous to generalize. Each case should be approached individually: 
some of them have magical conceptions which complement their scientific thinking 
(Bmno, Bacon), in others the two orientations show an almost total discontinuity 
(Kepler, Newton), in other cases science and magic are intermixed in a disorderly con¬ 
coction (Paracelsus) and in Dee’s case it seems that his magical ideas totally absorbed 
his scientific orientation, although in his middle career one can still see independently 
functioning subsystems in his thought (his geographic interests, or his ideas about 
public science, for example). 

If one contrasts the last three important views on Dee in modem scholarship - 
those of Yates/French, Clulee, and Sherman - one sees that each of them has 
contributed at least one important proposal to our understanding of Dee. The Yates 
School brought magic into the awareness of historians of science, legitimising a pre¬ 
occupation which had previously been considered no more than obscurantism. Clulee 
highlighted the diachronic reorientation during Dee’s career and brought into the 
discussion the medieval roots of sixteenth-century magic and science which had been 
overshadowed by Yates’s enthusiasm for neoplatonic hermeticism. 82 Sherman’s 
approach has revealed a synchronic multiplicity in the English doctor’s diverse interests 
and activities. If we look at this historiographical line, we see a direction of scholarship 
moving from a somewhat static and simplistic interpretation of Dee as an English 
magus towards a more complex contextualization in intellectual history in which 
elements of discontinuity have become emphasized and in which the originally pro¬ 
posed “master narrative” 83 has become subverted by more and more - often conflicting 
and contradictory - subtexts. It may seem surprising, but at this point I would still 
avow a return to the Yatesian “master narrative”, albeit with some modifications. I am 
inclined to see Dee as a “magus”, who had an amazingly wide range of interests but 
who also increasingly had a focusing obsession, a magical program, not necessarily to 
improve the sciences in order to prepare for the scientific revolution, but rather to find 
an alternative system of knowledge. And we are really talking about alternative systems 
of knowledge, since Dee clearly distinguished between science after the Fall and that of 



222 


G. E. SZONYI 


the primordial wisdom. His aim was to restore the Adamic or Enochian wisdom of the 
Golden Age and that would not be compatible with the methods and means of fallen 
science relying on discursive logic. 

Dee’s program is by no means exceptional in the intellectual spectrum of the Late- 
Renaissance. The humanists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - with their 
passion for the restoration of all ancient thought and texts - rediscovered a number of 
alternative systems of knowledge: the Chaldean prophecies, the Zoroastrian writings, 
the corpus of the hermetic and pseudo-hermetic treatises, and the mystical speculations 
of the cabala. 84 Some of the Renaissance intellects such as Erasmus, abhorred and 
deeply mistrusted these “lunacies”. Others entertained a scholarly philological interest, 
combining it with a religious program to prove the general superiority of Christianity 
over Judaism and Islam (Reuchlin and the early Postel). 85 It is interesting to note that 
while in sixteenth-century Germany heterodoxy manifested itself primarily in religious 
mysticism (Sebastian Franck, Kaspar Schwenckfeld, Valentin Weigel, and Johann 
Arndt), there was also a more active and less abstract trend of speculative thinking, 
often taking its impetus from classical humanism, occasionally dabbling with magic, 
and finally definitively rejecting the logical sciences in favour of intuitive and revela¬ 
tory ancient wisdom. Dee’s somewhat older contemporary, Guillaume Postel, is one of 
the best examples of this kind of active enthusiasm and his stubborn insistence on his 
visionary ideas parallels Dee’s unshakeable belief in his angels. 86 This sort of alternative 
thinking has not often been examined in its own terms. It has mainly been looked at as 
“proto-science” or religious dissent and this approach may be highly misleading. The 
course of alternative thinking becomes especially interesting around the turn of the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the rapid development of the natural sciences 
destroyed the conceptual foundations of the animistic universe, the correspondences, 
and the great chain of being. In spite of these assaults, amazingly, esoteric or occult 
thinking has not completely disappeared; on the contrary, it has persisted up to the 
present day. The only sensible account of this phenomenon must come from the area of 
anthropology and what Gershom Scholem decades ago wrote about the significance of 
mystical-cabalistical trends within Judaism perfectly applies to the whole early modem 
esoteric movement: 

It is characteristic of Kabbalistic theology that it attempts to construct and describe a 
world in which something of the mythical has again come to life. [...] Mystics and 
philosophers are as it were both aristocrats of thought; yet Kabbalism succeeded in 
establishing a connection between its own world and certain elemental impulses operative 
in every human mind. It did not turn its back upon the primitive side of life, that all- 
important region where mortals are afraid of life and in fear of death, and derive scant 
wisdom from rational philosophy. Philosophy ignored these fears, out of whose substance 
man wove myths, and in turning its back upon the primitive side of man’s existence it paid 
a high price in losing touch with him altogether. 87 

Since this esoteric movement heavily relied on primordial wisdom, an important 
source of which, besides the Enochian legends and gnostic and neoplatonic specu¬ 
lations, was the Egyptian-Hellenistic Corpus Hermeticum , I do not share Clulee’s and 
Sherman’s serious reservations about using the term “hermetic philosopher” for Dee. 88 
Dee was, or at some point became , a hermetic philosopher who went beyond science 
and when we situate him in the context of the seventeenth-century epistemological 
paradigm-shift we should not see him as a predecessor of the members of the Royal 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


223 


Society, but rather as a forefather of those seventeenth-century thinkers - Heinrich 
Khunrath, the Rosicrucians, Jakob Bohme, Robert Fludd, Athanasius Kircher - who, in 
spite of the advancement of learning, preferred to adhere to an alternative system of 
knowledge and work for a spiritual (if not a corporeal) restitution of the lost Golden 
Age and the exaltation of man. 

For a flexible approach to John Dee’s intellect and psyche I can recommend the 
attitude of Wayne Shumaker, who came to the following conclusion while reading four 
seemingly bizarre Renaissance magical texts, including Dee’s angelic diaries: 

Evidently the consciousness of learned Renaissance men [...] was structured in ways I 
had failed to imagine. [...] I began to perceive that, far from being eccentric, such ideas 
have characterized most times and cultures - an insight corroborated by anthropology. 

[...] Dee, Cardan, Trithemius, and Dalgamo all demonstrate that intelligent men could, 
and did, hold ideas that now seem extraordinary; and I should think that a reader [...] 
would lay the book aside with an enhanced realization of the possible varieties of 
intellectual orientation. 89 

A modification of perspective from evolution-oriented history of science to anthro¬ 
pology seems particularly useful in Dee’s case and opens up further vistas of research. 


NOTES 

1 See NP and William H. Sherman, John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance 
(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995). 

2 A typical example of this sort of argumentation can be found in PA, 12. 

3 T&FR, 231. Cf. “Ad omnipotentem Deum Protestatio fidelis ad perpetuam rei memoriam”, Lib. Myst., fol. 
7. 

4 See Frances A. Yates, “The Hermetic Tradition in Renaissance Science” in Charles S. Singleton, ed., Art, 
Science and History in the Renaissance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968), 255-274, and 
Frances A. Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972). 

5 Cf. for example Robert S. Westman, “Magical Reform and Astronomical Reform: The Yates Thesis Recon¬ 
sidered” in Lynn White, ed., Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution (Papers read at the Clark Library 
Seminar, March, 1974 (Los Angeles: UCLA, W.A. Clark Memorial Library, 1977), and Brian Vickers, “Fran¬ 
ces Yates and the Writing of History,” Journal of Modern History 51 (1979): 287-316. Both Clulee and 
Sherman give a good historiographical account of reactions to the “master narrative” of Dee as magus. 

6 PA, 15,43. 

7 In this paper I primarily rely on the following studies: Graham Yewbrey, John Dee and the “Sidney Group 
Cosmopolitics and Protestant Activism in the 1570s (Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Hull, 1981); 
Wayne Shumaker, “John Dee’s Conversations with Angels” in Wayne Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa 
(Binghamton: Center for Medieval & Early Renaissance Studies, 1982); Christopher L. Whitby, “John Dee 
and Renaissance Scrying,” Bulletin of the Society for Renaissance Studies 3:2 (1985): 25-36; NP; R&W; 
Sherman, John Dee. 

8 Cf. Lib. Myst, fol. 5. Commented upon by Yewbrey, John Dee and the Sidney Group, 169. 

9 MP, sig. *j r v . 

10 MP, sig. A.iii v 

11 MP, sig. A.iii v . 

12 NP, 167 and 285 (notes 55-58). Avicenna’s De divisionibus scientiarum can be found in Dee’s copy of 
Avicennae [...] compendium de Anima (Venice, 1546), R&W, no. 395, which is presently in the Bodleian 
Library, Oxford. Dee purchased it in 1557. See also Toufic Fahd, La divination arabe: Etudes religieuses, 
sociologiques etfolkloriques sur le milieu natif de I’lslam (Leiden: Brill, 1966). 

13 Cf. Dee’s booklist in Oxford, Corpus Christi MS 191: J. Dee Libri antiqui scripti quos habeo anno 1556. 
According to Roberts and Watson the “Ars sintrillia” was originally included in the codex (R&W, no. CM4), 
which has been identified with parts of Oxford Corpus Christi MS 233, but the “Ars sintrillia” is missing from 



224 


G. E. SZONYI 


the extant manuscript (R&W, 126; NP, 167-68). For scholarly literature on Artephius see Clulee’s references. 

14 NP, 168, gives a detailed description of the complicated interrelatedness of medieval manuscripts and 
sixteenth-century references by Gianfrancesco Pico, Cardanus and others to Artephius. As John Ferguson 
notes, Artephius has always been regarded by the alchemists as one of the masters. By virtue of the elixir he 
is reputed to have lived a thousand and twenty-five years; see John Ferguson, Bibliotheca Chemica: A 
Catalogue of the Alchemical, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Books in the Collection of the late James 
Young of Kelly and Durris, Esq., LL.D., F.R.S., F.R.S.E., 2 vols (Glasgow, 1906), I, 50-51. Although 
Ferguson cites mostly seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sources for this legend, it is interesting to note 
that Dee’s contemporary and personal acquaintance, Postel, was also fascinated by Artephius and compared 
the magus’s long life to his own “restitution”. Cf. Guillaume Postel, De orbis terrce concordia libri quatuor 
(Paris, 1543), 90-91. See also Francis Secret, “Alchimie, palingenesie et metempsychose chez Guillaume 
Postel,” Chrysopoeia 3 (1989): 50-51. 

15 PA, 148-149. 

16 See Hero of Alexandria, Mechanik und Katoptrik, eds. Ludwig Nix and Wilhelm Schmidt (Leipzig, 
1900). For mediaeval optics and Roger Bacon’s experiments in this field see David C. Lindberg, 
Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1976), and Urszula 
Szulakowska, The Alchemy of Light: Geometry and Optics in Late Renaissance Alchemical Illustration, 
Symbola et Emblemata, 10 (Leiden: Brill, 2000). 

17 A few pertinent works among the extensive scholarly literature on Renaissance talismanic magic include 
Franz Boll and Carl Besold, Sternglaube und Sterndeutung: Die Geschichte und das Wesen der Astrologie, 
ed. Wilhelm Gundel (Berlin, 1926); Richard Hans Laars, Das Buch der Amulette und Talismane: 
Talismanische Astrologie und Magie (Leipzig, 1932); Karl A. Nowotny, “The Construction of Certain Seals 
and Characters in the Work of Agrippa of Nettesheim,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 12 
(1949): 46-57; D.P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (London: The War¬ 
burg Institute, 1958); E. A. Wallis Budge, Amulets and Talismans (New York: University Books, 1961); 
Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964); 
Liselotte Hansman and Lenz Kriss-Rettenbeck, Amulett und Talisman: Erscheinungsform und Geschichte 
(Munich: Callwey, 1966), etc. 

18 In Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, De occulta philosophia (1533). I am quoting the seventeenth-century 
English edition: Three Books of Occult Philosophy (London, 1651). 

19 Agrippa, II, xxxv, 290-1. 

20 Agrippa, II, xxii, 242. 

21 Cf. Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 
1964), 150-1, 251; Peter J. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge and 
Kegan Paul, 1972), 76-78; 127-8. French, however, must be credited with being the first to label Dee as an 
English Paracelsian. Another pre-Roberts and Watson scholar to associate Dee with Paracelsus was Charles 
Webster (see his “Alchemical and Paracelsian Medicine” in Charles Webster, ed., Health, Medicine and 
Mortality in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). 

22 As Roberts and Watson remark, collecting Paracelsica “must have been one of his chief preoccupations in 
the twenty years before his departure for Europe” (R&W, 36). It seems that Dee started collecting the works of 
Paracelsus from 1562 and a heavily annotated German edition ( R&W no. 1476 - “ Libellus de balneis ”, 1562) 
with marginal translations proves Dee’s command of that language. All in all, there are ninety-two editions of 
Paracelsus in 157 copies mentioned in Dee’s catalogue and the concordance with Sudhoffs catalogue 
(Bibliographia Paracelsica, Berlin, 1894); cf. R&W, Appendix 5, which documents Dee’s possession of 
works covering the whole spectrum of Paracelsian thought. The author of the only post-Roberts and Watson 
monograph, William Sherman, has acknowledged Dee’s interest in Paracelsus but since his book is not 
primarily concerned with Dee’s natural philosophy, his remarks are restricted to the technical aspects of Dee’s 
book-collecting habits and marginal annotations (Sherman, 43-44, 76-79 & 98-99). 

23 This album amicorum has been acquired by the National Library of Medicine (Bethesda, Maryland) and 
reviewed by Richard J. Durling in Gesnerus: Revue trimestrielle, publie par la Societe suisse d’histoire de la 
medicine et des sciences naturelles, 22 (1965): 134-59. Roberts and Watson knew about this inscription in 
Gesner’s album (R&W, 20, n.23) but thought that it had been lost. Sherman refers to Durling, (Sherman, 215, 
n.83). 

24 R&W, 101. The book - Libellus de balneis germanice, today in New York Society Library - contains 
extensive notes by Dee, including translations from the German. 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


225 


25 Erklarung der ganzen astronomei, in Karl Sudhoff and Wilhelm Mathiessen, eds., Paracelsus, Samtliche 
Werke. Abteilung I: Medizinische. naturwissenschaftliche undphilosophische Schriften, 14 vols (Vols. 6-9 
Munich, 1922-5; Vols.1-5 and 10-14 Berlin, 1928-33), X, 656. After the Sudhoff edition numbers, I am also 
giving the references to the definitive sixteenth-century edition by Johann Huser, Der Bucher und Schriften 
[...] Philippi Theophrasti Paracelsi: Jetzt auffs new aufi den Originalien, und Theophrasti eigener Hand- 
schrifft, soviet derselben zu bekommen gewesen [etc], 10 vols (Basel, 1589-90), X, 464. See also: A. E. 
Waite, ed., The Hermetical and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus Bombast (London, 
1894), II, 295. I have also used the following English compendiums of the writings of Paracelsus: Franz 
Hartmann, The Life and the Doctrines of Philippus Theophrastus Paracelsus, extracted and translated from 
his rare and extensive works and from some unpublished manuscripts (New York, 1891) and Paracelsus, 
Selected Writings, ed. Jolande Jacobi, Bollingen Series 28 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951). 

26 PA, 134-135, 

27 MH, sig. B3 r v , 135, 137. The Latin parenthesis has been added here for the reader’s benefit. 

28 Paracelsus, Samtliche Werke, XII, 326; Huser, X, 290; Jacobi, 44. 

29 Paracelsus, Samtliche Werke, XII, 183; Huser, X, 162. 

30 Paracelsus, Die Bucher von den unsichtbaren Krankheiten, Samtliche Werke, IX, 271. 

31 Paracelsus, Samtliche Werke, XII, 41-2; Huser, X, 35. 

32 Agrippa, III, xxxvi, 460-1. 

33 Agrippa, III, xxxvi, 460. 

34 Paracelsus, De fundamento scientiarum sapienticeque, Samtliche Werke, XIII, 306; Huser, IX. 430. On 
Agrippa’s magical notions see Charles G. Nauert, Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought, Illinois 
Studies in the Social Sciences, 55 (Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1965); Alexandre Koyre, 
Mystiques, Spirituels, Alchimistes du XVIe siecle allemand (Paris: Gallimard, 1971); Wolf-Dieter Mtiller- 
Jahncke, “Von Ficino zu Agrippa: Der Magie-Begriff des Renaissance-Humanism im Uberblick” in Antoine 
Faivre and Rolf Christian Zimmermann, eds., Epochen der Naturmystik (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1972), 24-51; 
Paola Zambelli, “Le probleme de la magie naturelle a la Renaissance” in Magia, astrologia e religione nel 
Rinascimento, Convegno polacco-italiano, Varsavia 1972 (Warsaw: Ossolineum, 1972), 48-82; Charles 
Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1982); Michael Keefer, “Agrippa’s Dilemma: Hermetic “Rebirth” and the Ambivalences of 
De vanitate and De occulta philosophia ,” Renaissance Quarterly, 41:4 (1988): 614-53. On Paracelsus’s 
concepts of the mystical rebirth ( corpus glorificationis) I have consulted the following studies: Carl Gustav 
Jung, “Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon” in Jung, Paracelsica: Zwei Vorlesungen uber den Artz und 
Philosophen Theophrastus (Zurich, 1942); cf. Jung, Alchemical Studies (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 
1983), 109-91; Ernst W. Kammerer, Das Leib-Seele-Geist-Problem bei Paracelsus und einigen Autoren des 
17. Jahrhunderts, Kosmographie, 3 (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1971); Wolf-Dieter Muller Jahncke, Astrologisch- 
magische Theorie und Praxis in der Heilkunde der friihen Neuzeit, Sudhoffs Archiv, Beiheft 25 (Wiesbaden: 
Steiner, 1985); Massimo Luigi Bianchi, Signatura rerum: Segni, magia e cognoscenza da Paracelso a 
Leibniz, Lessico Intellectuale Europeo, 43 (Roma: Edizioni dell’ Ateneo, 1987); and Elisabeth Ann Ambrose, 
“Cosmos, Anthropos, and Theos: Dimensions of the Paracelsian Universe”, Cauda Pavonis, 11:1 (1992): 1-7. 

35 The Holy Bible [...] translated out of the original tongues [...] by His Majesty's special command 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). It should be noted, however, that such divination in the Bible 
is most of the time condemnable and condemned: “And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed 
times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the 
sight of the Lord.” (2 Kings 20.21). Dee seems to have tendentiously overlooked such warnings whether in the 
Bible or in his much admired Paracelsus (see later on the angelic conversations). 

36 Exodus 28.15-31. It was Christopher L. Whitby who first called attention to the Biblical context (in the 
article referred to in footnote 6 above). For lapidaries see the following items from Dee’s library: Albertus 
Magnus, De lapidibus mineralibus, - R&W, nos. 2290, M24a, Ml07, Ml49a, Ml96a; Lazar Ecker, 
Beschreibung allerfurnemsten mineralischen Ertzt und Berckwerksarten (Prague, 1574) - R&W no. 5; 
“Gesnerus & alii varii de lapidibus & gemmis, 1565” - R&W, no. 765; Paracelsus, “De metallis; de 
mineralibus; de gemmis, germanice” = Ettliche Tractatus [...] Von Naturlichen Dingen; Beschreibung etlicher 
Kreiitter; Von Metallen; Von Mineralen; Von Edlen Gesteinen [...] (Strassburg, 1570) - R&W, no. 1485, etc. 
On the medieval lapidaries see Joan Evans, Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 
particularly in England (Oxford, 1922, repr. New York: Dover Press, 1976); on the twelve symbolic jewels 



226 


G. E. SZONYI 


see Gyorgy Szonyi, “Mannerist Imagery and Thinking in the Prose of Andras Pragai,” Acta Litteraria, 
Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 26 (1984): 207-32. 

37 Arthur Edward Waite, The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus, II, 296. Cf. also: “Visiones, 
das sind gesicht so man mit kiinsten macht in spiegeln, crystallen, negeln und der gleichen ”, Erklarung der 
gantzen Astronomey, Sdmtliche Werke, XII, 500, Huser, X, 485. Cf. also Die 9 Bucher de natura rerum, 
Sdmtliche Werke , XI, 307 and Waite, The Hermetic and Alchemical Writing of Paracelsus , I, 171. One of 
Dee’s Paracelsica, “De rebus naturalibus; descriptio aliquot stirpis de metallis, de mineralibus, de gemmis, 
germanici, Argentoratum, 1570” - R&W, no. 1485 (S120 in Karl Sudhoff s Bibliographia Paracelsica, 
Berlin, 1894) can be identified with Die 9 bucher. That Dee must have known the “ars beryllistica” concept 
of Paracelsus is shown by the fact that in the Monas Hieroglyphica he had already used the term “beryl- 
listicus” (See MH, B3v, 137 and NP, 141). There are a great many useful studies on crystallomantia in 
Polish. See for example, Roman Bugaj, Nauki tajemne w Polsce w dobie Odrodzenie (Warsaw: Ossolineum, 
1976), 120 et seq., and Ryszard Gansiniec, “Krystalomancja,” Lud, 41 (1954): 1-83. This latter is the most 
extensive and relatively up-to-date article on crystal gazing I have found. 

38 This mirror, at present in the British Museum, was donated by the eighteenth-century eccentric aristocrat, 
Horace Walpole. See Hugh Tait, “The Devil’s Looking Glass: the Magical Speculum of Dr John Dee” in 
Warren Hunting Smith, ed., Horace Walpole, Writer, Politician and Connoisseur. Essays on the 250 th 
anniversary of Walpole’s birth (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1967), 195-212. Clulee 
reproduces this precious item (NP, figure 8.1). 

39 Gansiniec, “Krystalomancja” gives an excellent summary of these remarks. I am adopting a few of his 
citations: “Nonnunquam ad quod vocantur demones praenunciant diversis figuris quas miseri homines videre 
solent vel in polito lapide, ferro, calibe, speculo [...].” Gregorius Reisch, Margarita Philosphica (Strassburg, 
1512), 7:23 - Dee had the 1504 edition, R&W, no. 1385; “Hinc est quod multi profanis artibus dediti dae- 
mones ad circulum, ad speculum, sive ad quselibet alia receptacula horrendis conjurationibus convocare labo- 
rantes. [...] Daemones terrestres commurantur interdum et pollicentur vesanis in vitro vel in crystallo sive in 
speculo [...].” Trithemius, Tractatus de reprobis atque maleficis (Cologne, 1566), R&W, nos. 468 and 472. See 
also “Joh. Trithemii libellus octo quaestionum, 1564”, R&W, no. 897. 

40 “[QJuidam sic experiuntur: in crystallo sedens conversus ad orientem, crucem facito cum oleo olivae, et sub 
cruce scribe nomen sanctae Helenae hoc modo: Sancta Helena. Inde puer natus ex conjugibus, aetatis annorum 
decern vel circa, virgo, capiat crystallum dextra manu et tu genibus flexis post ilium stans supplicationem ter, 
dices: ‘Deprecor te, domina sancta Helena, quae crucem domini nostri Iesu Cristi invenisti et per illam 
sanctissimam devotionem [...] debeas demonstrare in hoc crystallo quidquid peto et scire cupio, Amen.’ Et 
cum puer videbit angelum in hoc crystallo, rogabit quaecunque volueris angelusque respondebit.” in Girolamo 
Cardano, De rerum varietate (Lyons, 1663), cited by Gansiniec, 12. Dee had the 1557 edition, R&W, no. 60. 
Cardano’s example was taken over by Johann Wier in De prcestigiis dcemonum, Ch. 5. Dee had two copies of 
this work (R&W, nos. 456 and 862); he even lent it to help the clarification of a witchcraft case as late as 1597. 

41 Janos Reizner, Szeged tortenete (Szeged, 1900), IV, 390. For further examples cf. Gansiniec, 1 Iff. 

42 For more information on these statutes see the introductory section of Whitby’s thesis. 

43 James O. Halliwell, ed., The Autobiography and Personal Diary of Dr Simon Forman (London, 1849), 
17, cit. Whitby, 31. 

44 Whitby mentions two spectacular examples of such manuscript compendia. One is British Library, 
Additional MS 36,674 which contains magical journals by Dee’s associates, Humphrey Gilbert and John 
Davies, and has marginal notes by Gabriel Harvey. In the neighborhood of these texts, this codex also 
accommodates a holograph draft of Dee’s primer for his Enochian magic, “De heptarchia mystica”. The other, 
Sloane MS 3851 contains standard texts, such as “The Magick of Arbatel”, “Signum pentaculum Solomonis”, 
and “The Fourth Book of Agrippa” as well as private incantations and rituals (“Invocations to call a spirit into 
a chrystall Stone and to keep him there”, fols. 92-109; and “To have conference with spirits”, fols. 129-31). 
Some infamous rituals of ceremonial and black magic have been published by Arthur Edward Waite, The 
Book of Ceremonial Magic: A Complete grimoire (London, 1911, repr. Secaucus, NJ: The Citadel Press, 
1961). For German examples of magical manuscripts see the Herzog-August Bibliothek, Wolfenbtittel, HAB 
MS 115 Aug fol (3903), Allerhand in Kreise gestellte magische oder kabbalistische Figuren, sixteenth 
century; Arbatel, d.i. die Heylige Geistkunst, darinnen der grundliche unfehlige Weg angezaigt wiirt, wie man 
zu der rechten wahren Erkentnus Gottes, auch sichtigen vnd vnsichtigen Geschopff, aller Kiinsten, 
Weyssheyten vnnd Handtwercken khomen solle, seventeenth century, HAB MS 48.2 Aug 4to; Razijel. Das 
Edle Buch von der Gottlichen Magia. Unserm Ersten Vater Adam stracks nach dem er auss dem Paradeiss 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


227 


verstossen von dem Engell selbsten Offenbahett. Nebenst anderer Mehrer Cabalistischen und Magischen 
Maistere Schonen, herlichen und geheimeren Additionibus, seventeenth century, HAB MS 246.5 Extra- 
vagantes. 

45 John Dee, Autobiographical Tracts , ed. James Crossley, Remains Historical and Literary of Lancaster and 
Chester Counties, 1 (Manchester, 1851), 17. 

46 Lib. Myst., fol. 8. 

47 Private Diary , 5, R&W, 53. Halliwell’s transcript is incorrect and must be checked against the original entry 
in Stadius’s Ephemerides (1570), which is now available on microfilm: Elisabeth Leedham-Green and Julian 
Roberts, eds., John Dee, Renaissance Man: The Reconstructed Libraries of European Scholars, 1450-1700. 
The Books and Manuscripts of John Dee. Manuscripts from the Bodleian Library (Marlborough: Adam 
Matthews, 1991), reel 4. Dee purchased several of Thumeysser’s books: his Paracelsus dictionary, published 
in Berlin in 1574 (R&W, no. 2275), a 1569 edition of the Archidoxa (R&W, no. 1455), and a 1560 edition of 
the Quinta essentia (R&W, no. 1445). 

48 Franciscus Joel, De morbis hyperphysicis et rebus magicis (Rostock, 1579) cit. Hermann Kopp, Die 
Alchemie in alterer und neuerer Zeit: Ein Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte (Heidelberg, 1886), I, 117. 

49 MP, sig. Aj v 

50 Private Diary, 13 [9 October 1581] and 14 [27 January, 12 February, 6 March 1582]. 

51 Lib. Myst., fol. 7 V , cit. NP, 179 and 288, note 11. 

52 Private Diary, 11 [25 May 1581]. 

53 Cf. Genesis 2. 19-20: “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every 
fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called 
every living creature, that was the name thereof.” 

54 MH, 23 v , 201 

55 On the quest for a mystical, universal language, see studies on Trithemius, Dalgamo, Kircher, John Wilkins, 

Leibniz, etc. A few important works: Alessandro Bausani, Geheim und Universalsprachen: Entwicklung und 
Typologie (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1970); Amo Borst, Der Turmbau von Babel: Geschichte der Meinungen 
uber Ur sprung und Vielfalt der Sprachen und Volker, 4 vols (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1957-63); Joscelyn 
Godwin, Athanasius Kircher. A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge (London: Thames & 
Hudson, 1979); James Knowlson, Universal Language Schemes in England and France 1600-1800 (Toronto: 
University of Toronto Press, 1975); George McCracken, “Athanasius Kircher’s Universal Polygraphy,” Isis, 
39 (1948): 215-228; Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann, Topica universalis: Eine Modellgeschichte 

humanistischer und barocker Wissenschaft, Paradeigmata, 1 (Hamburg: Meiner, 1983); Gerhard F. Strasser, 
Lingua universalis: Kryptographie und Theorie der Universalsprachen im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, 
Wolfenbtitteler Forschungen, 38 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1988); Marina Yaguello, Les Fous du langage: 
Des langues imaginaires et de leurs inventeurs (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1984). 

56 Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 185-90. See Guillaume 
Postel’s De originibus (Basel, 1553), R&W, no. 868. See also NP, 88. 

51 MH, 5 r , 127. 

58 John Dee, Liber mysteriorum, sextus et sanctus, 1583, British Library, Sloane MS 3189. 

59 Both in manuscript, in British Library, Sloane MS 3191 .De heptarchia mystica was recently published by 
Robert Turner (Wellingborough: Aquarius Press, 1986). A not uninteresting compendium of Dee’s 
Enochian magic was edited and translated by Geoffrey James, The Enochian Magic of Dr. John Dee (St. 
Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 1994). In this compilation the Enochian passages scattered in 
Dee’s diaries are taken out of their original context and are arranged into a logical sequence, which, 
obviously, is the invention of the editor. 

60 See, for example, Donald C. Laycock, The Complete Enochian Dictionary of John Dee (London: Askin, 
1978). 

61 Except for the early diaries in Sloane MS 3188, which until recently have remained unstudied. From the 
early 1980s on, Yewbrey made use of this manuscript, and later Whitby wrote a doctoral dissertation 
(University of Birmingham, 1981) which included a full transcription of this material. A facsimile edition of 
Whitby’s thesis was published by Garland (New York) in 1988. 

62 T&FR, 168-70. 

63 T&FR, 172-3. 

64 T&FR, 231. 

65 T&FR, 80. 

66 T&FR, 92. 



228 


G. E. SZONYI 


67 See footnote 35 above. 

68 Astronomia magna, as quoted by Hartman, 149. An influential source of these kinds of warnings is 
Augustine, De civitate Dei, Book 10, Chapters 9-10, where he attacks Porphyrian theurgy - an attack repeated 
almost verbatim in Chapter 46 of Cornelius Agrippa’s De vanitate scientarium (Cologne, 1533). 

69 See Luigi Firpo, “John Dee, scienziato, negromante e awenturiero,” Rinascimento, 3 (1952): 25-84; 
Robert J.W. Evans, Rudolph II and His World (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973; London: Thames & Hudson, 
1997), 214-28; and my articles: “John Dee i jego zwiqzki ze Srodkowq Europq” (John Dee and his Contacts 
with Central Europe), Odrodzenie i Reformacja w Polsce, 25 (1980): 99-111; “Traditions of Magic: From 
Faustus to Dee at European Universities and Courts,” Cauda Pavonis, 10:2 (1991): 1-8; and ‘“Eastward 
Ho! ’ John Dee a kelet-kozep-europai udvarokban” (John Dee at Eastern European Courts), in Monok Istvan, 
ed., A III. Hungarologiai Kongresszus eloadasai (Budapest-Szeged: JATE, 1993), 1063-1074. 

70 Some of Dee’s books related to prophetic traditions: for Joachim of Fiore see “Joachimi Abbatis Vaticinia” 
- R&W, nos. 436 and Ml8; “Pauli Scalichii explanatio imaginum abbatis Joachim & Anselmi, Cologne, 
1570” - R&W, no. 2028; for Psellus and Iamblichus see R&W, no. 256. This fascinating colligatum (now in 
the Folger Shakespeare Library) of mystical and pneumatological literature is heavily annotated by Dee; for 
the Paracelsus prognostications see “Paracelsi expositio magicarum figurarum, germanici, 1569” - R&W, no. 
956 [Sudhoff 106], “Paracelsi expositio imaginarum magicarum, 1570” - R&W, no. 844 [Sudhoff 115]. For 
Postel’s prophecies see “Configuratio signorum coelestium, 1553” R&W, no. 432 and De orbis terrce Concor¬ 
dia, (Basel, 1544) -R&W, no. D18; etc. 

71 On Postel’s alleged madness, see William J. Bouwsma, Concordia mundi: The Career and thought of 
Guillaume Postel, 1510-1581 (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1957), 26-27 and Marion L. 
Kuntz, Guillaume Postel: Prophet of the Restitution of All Things: His Life and Thought (The Hague: 
Martinus Nijhof, 1981), 162. On the circumstances of Dee’s return to England, see Private Diary, 31, and 
Autobiographical Tracts, 14. 

72 This is echoed in Casaubon’s elaborate preface to the True & Faithful Relation (see T&FR, “The Preface”, 
sig, D3 r v and “Postscript”, sig. I2 1 ), and in almost all monographs on Dee which aimed at placing him in the 
venerable tradition of hermetic magi of the Renaissance (Calder, Yates, French). 

73 James, xxv. This is implied by Clulee in relating to the vagaries of patronage, then explicitly stated by Susan 
Bassnett in her studies of Kelley and Elizabeth Weston (see “Revising a Biography: A New Interpretation of 
the Life of Elizabeth Jane Weston based on her autobiographical poem on the occasion of the death of her 
mother,” Cahiers Elisabethains, 37 (1990): 1-8 and her article in the present volume. 

74 T&FR, 158-159. 

75 This anecdote is mentioned by Anthony Burgess, Shakespeare (London: Penguin, 1970), 103. According 
to the legend, in order to commemorate the event, Alleyn later founded Dulwich College on the site where 
that amazing revelation had taken place. 

76 Whitby, 33-34. 

77 This is a strong argument, and is by no means invalidated by the sceptical - and somewhat simplistic - 
references to the general shortage of money and greed of the aristocratic patrons. On the magical contexts of 
some German courts see Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, Robert J.W. Evans, Rudolph II and his 
World, Wolf-Dieter Muller-Jahncke, Astrologisch-magische; Bruce T. Moran, The Alchemical World of the 
German Court: Occult Philosophy and Chemical Medicine in the Circle of Moritz of Hessen, 1572-1652, 
Sudhoffs Archiv, 29 (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1991); Jost Weyer, Graf Wolfgang II von Hohenlohe und die 
Alchemie. Alchemistische Studien in Slofi Weikersheim, 1587-1610 (Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke, 1992); 
Debra L. Stoudt, ‘“Probatum est per me’: The Heidelberg Electors as Practitioners and Patrons of the Medical 
and Magical Arts,” Cauda Pavonis, 14:1 (1995): 12-18. On Dee’s “academy”, see French, 126-188; and 
Sherman’s more modem approach (Sherman, chapters 2 and 3). 

78 See Private Diary. 

79 In June, when he was banished from Prague and took temporary refuge in Germany, see T&FR, 429; and 
R&W, 77-78. 

80 R&W, Appendix I, nos. 2 and 3. 

81 T&FR, (new numbering), *37, *39. 

82 The medieval contexts have recently been explored by Stephen Clucas in a study of Dee’s interest in 
Solomonic magical manuscripts. See his essay in the present volume. 

83 Sherman uses this term in his book. See Sherman, 12-19. 

84 In spite of all recent criticism, I find the best summary of these discoveries in D.P. Walker’s Spiritual and 
Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (London: The Warburg Institute, 1958) and Frances A. Yates, 



PARACELSUS, SCRYING AND THE LINGUA ADAMCA 


229 


Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge Kegan and Paul, 1964). On hermeticism, 
see Andre Marie Jean Festugiere, Hermetisme et mystique paienne (Paris: Louvain, 1967); Raymond Marcel, 
“La fortune de l’Hermes Trismegiste a la renaissance” in Andre Stegman, ed., L ’humanisme francais au debut 
de la renaissance (Paris: Vrin, 1973), 137-54; Konrad Eisenbichler and Olga Zorzi Pugliese, eds., Ficino and 
Renaissance Neoplatonism, University of Toronto Italian Studies, 1 (Ottawa: Dovehouse Editions Canada, 
1986); Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus, eds., Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and 
the Occult in Early Modem Europe (Washington: The Folger Institute, 1988), etc. On the cabalistic 
interpretations, see Joseph Blau, The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (New York: 
Columbia University Press, 1944); and Francois Secret, Les Kabbalistes Chretiens de la Renaissance (Paris: 
Dunod, 1964, repr. Milan: Arche, 1985); on Dee and the Cabala, Michael T. Walton, “John Dee’s Monas 
Hieroglyphica: Geometrical Cabala,” Ambix, 23 (1976): 116-23, and Karen De Leon-Jones’s article in the 
present volume. 

85 See, for example, Erasmus to Albert of Brandenburg, 19 October 1519 in P. S. Allen, ed.., Opus episto- 
larum , 12 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906-58), IV, 100. On Erasmus’s attitudes to magic and Judaism, 
see Wemer Gundersheimer, “Erasmus, Humanism and the Christian Cabala”, Journal of the Warburg and 
CourtauldInstitutes, 26 (1963): 38-52; Paola Zambelli, “Comelio Agrippa, Erasmo e la teologia umanistica”, 
Rinascimento, 21 (1969): 29-88; and Charles Zika, “Reuchlin and Erasmus: Humanism and Occult 
Philosophy”, The Journal of Religious History, 9 (1976-77): 223-246 (242-6). For a near-contemporary 
review of the possible role of the cabala in philosophy, see Johann Pistorius, Artis cabalisticce, hoc est 
Reconditce Theologice et Philosophies Scriptorum (Basel, 1587). On Reuchlin’s troubles in connection with his 
alleged Judaism, cf. Max Brod, Johannes Reuchlin und sein Kampf: eine historische Monographic (Stuttgart: 
W. Ko hlh ammer Verlag, 1965). On Postel, see the next footnote. 

86 For some time I have been preparing myself to engage in a comparative study of the alternative occult 
thought of Postel and Dee. For more on Postel’s esotericism, see Bouwsma and Kuntz, also Francis Secret, 
“Notes sur Postel”, Bibliotheque d’humanisme et renaissance, 37 (1975): 101-19; 39 (1977): 115-32, 573-90; 
Secret, ‘Alchemie’; Frank Lestringant, “Cosmologie et mirabilia a la Renaissance: l’example de Guillaume 
Postel”, Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 16 (1986): 253-79. 

87 Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem: Schocken Publishing House Ltd., 1941, 
repr. New York: Schocken Books, 1974), 35. 

88 1 would argue with Sherman’s typological argument according to which magic is passive and contemplative 
while humanism is active (Sherman, 14-5). These are two different and rather independent paradigms each 
having a scale from passive to active. In the esoteric tradition this would range from passive mysticism 
through occult knowledge to active and assertive magical manipulations. In humanism, which is based on 
explication and discursive logic, one again finds a wide range of attitudes from enthusiasm through stoicism to 
scepticism. I do not, however, contest Sherman’s central argument which considers Dee both as a humanist 
and as a magus. 

89 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 11. These remarks are the more noteworthy since Professor Shumaker 
had previously written an acerbic and sceptical monograph on the occultism of the Renaissance: The Occult 
Sciences in the Renaissance: A Study in Intellectual Patterns (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 
1972). 



STEPHEN CLUCAS 


JOHN DEE’S ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE 

ARS NOTORIA 

Renaissance Magic and Mediaeval Theurgy 


On 27 June 1584 John Dee records that he and his “scryer” Edward Kelley were in 
conference with an angelic spirit named “Ave” in their lodgings in Cracow. The spirit 
instructed them on the use of a magical “Table” they had been given, inscribed with 
“the names of God”: 

Four dayes [...] must you onely call upon those names of God, or on the God of Hosts, in 
those names: And 14 dayes after you shall (in this, or in some convenient place) Call the 
Angels by Petition, and by the name of God, unto which they are obedient. The 15 day you 
shall Cl oath your selves in vestures made of linnen, white: and so have the apparition, use , 
and practise of the Creatures. 

Kelley observed that these prescriptions were “somewhat like the old fashion of 
Magick.” 1 While it has been commonplace to characterise Dee’s angel conversations 
(along with the works of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Johannes Reuchlin, and 
Johannes Trithemius) as a form of neoplatonic magic, I would argue that we must turn 
to “the old fashion of Magick” - the Pseudo-Solomonic ars notoria or theurgic magic 
which flourished virtually unabated from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, 2 in 
order to come to a clearer understanding of the origins of Dee’s practices, and the 
“Christian Cabalistic” tradition of Northern Europe as a whole. Examining works 
from this abundant manuscript tradition make it apparent that pseudo-Solomonic 
theurgy forms the most significant precedent for Dee’s “angelic magic”, and dictates 
many of the ritual, instrumental and linguistic forms of his “Actions”, especially its 
combination of magical “angelic language” and operative Christian prayer. 

1. DEE’S ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND INTELLECTUAL HISTORY 

The precise nature and disciplinary province of Dee’s conversations has been a thorny 
issue amongst intellectual historians, who have approached them with varying degrees 
of open-mindedness and historical imagination. As an example of how early-modern 
intellectual formations can be intelligently misunderstood or mis-categorised, the 
angelic conversations make an instructive historiographical case study. Long 
dismissed as either weak-minded and foolish superstition, 3 or misguided “spiritism,” 4 
Dee’s “occult”or “magical” beliefs and activities were initially recovered by historians 
who subscribed to the influential thesis that Renaissance neoplatonism anticipated the 
themes of emergent modem science. 5 This was certainly the view of I.R.F. Calder, 


231 

S. Clucas (ed.), John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, 231-273. 
© 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands. 



232 


S. CLUCAS 


whose monumental unpublished thesis, John Dee Studied as an English Neoplatonist , 
stressed the continuities between Dee’s neoplatonic beliefs and the themes of seven¬ 
teenth-century natural philosophy. Although Calder was historically sensitive to the 
normative character of Dee’s beliefs in spiritual creatures, 6 and provided a patient 
descriptive account of the conversations (albeit with an imbalance in favour of the 
printed texts), he was patently frustrated by their intractability to his attempts at 
characterising Dee as an “English Neoplatonist”. Commenting on Dee’s records of the 
conversations held during his continental journeys, he says: 

many are totally unintelligible, nor do they seem to be closely enough related to any usual 

Kabbalistic or numerological system to be even partially “interpreted” on any ordinary 

methods. 7 

While he notes that they are “made up of prayers, charms and incantations,” 
Calder can find precious little evidence for their basis in the “usual” Neoplatonic or 
Cabalistic sources. 

Published in the same year as Calder’s thesis was submitted, Luigi Firpo’s essay 
“John Dee, Scienziato, Negromante e Avventuriero,” 8 shares some of the strengths 
and weaknesses of Calder’s account of the angelic conversations. Like Calder, his 
account is meticulously descriptive, but utterly unsympathetic to the nature and 
objectives of Dee’s dealings with the angels. While he rightly sees Dee’s career as a 
“particularly revealing document of the beliefs, aspirations and culture of the sixteenth 
century,” 9 his anachronistic depreciation of the values underlying Dee’s practices are 
an insurmountable obstacle to the historical recovery of the milieu which he claims to 
be investigating, and prevents a proper historical appreciation of their culturally repre¬ 
sentative character. Like many subsequent commentators, Firpo becomes too 
embroiled in uncovering the “dissimulation” of Kelley, or the “credulity” of Dee, 
ignoring the very real opportunity which the conversations offer to explore the 
mentalities or cultural formations which made the deception possible (and credible) in 
the first place. Thus, while he notes that Dee’s motives were “sustained by an exalted 
conception of his own intelligence and by a profound religious spirit [...] and the 
certainty of God’s special favour towards him,” 10 these motives are not investigated 
but disprized. Dee is principally criticised for his failure to unequivocally embrace 
“scientific” principles (a modem category which would have been incomprehensible 
in Dee’s time). He is accused, for example, of having “no understanding of the infinite 
humility and patience which experimental researchers have to submit to in order to 
attain - at the cost of tedious labour - small provisional and partial truths”, instead he 
sought a “quick, infallible way to ascend to a total knowledge, which coincided with 
man’s limitless power over nature”. This was, in Firpo’s view, simply “the sin of 
impatient pride, reducing natural philosophy to occultism.” 11 This prejudice is the 
undercurrent of Firpo’s whole account, and prevents any serious attempt to assess or 
understand Dee’s practices. He scoffs at Dee’s “prolix” prophetic discourse, and 
belittles his “verbose and vacuous” orations to God, and his “fastidious rituals”. 12 He 
speaks of Dee’s “fraudulent ‘mysteries’” 13 and his “inspired and histrionic ex¬ 
pressions.” 14 While he meticulously records the events of Dee’s career, Firpo is 
ultimately unable to disguise his contempt for the proceedings as a whole: 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


233 


The supposed revelations of the future turned out to be completely false, they are full of 
geographical and scientific errors, with ungrammatical Latin, used sparingly, because the 
angels preferred to speak in English [...]. The angelic style was a trivial parody of Biblical 
language, with frequent and obvious borrowings of scriptural phrases. In some seances 
[...] the invisible spirits spoke a meaningless language, claiming that they spoke the 
language used by Adam before the fall. In conclusion, the learning which is reflected in 
the pseudo-revelations is the patched-together, defective and imperfect learning of Kelley, 
and it is always the urgent, material (and sometimes shameful) interests of Kelley which 
the angels endeavour to safeguard. 15 

Firpo shows no ability to understand that Dee’s practices might have been viewed 
as legitimate in their own historical context, and in the final analysis he represents Dee 
as a “fractured personality” whose work in mathematics, geography and astronomy 
were “suddenly eclipsed and extinguished by a blind superstitious infatuation”. 16 Thus, 
while Firpo rehearses the historical and biographical facts concerning the angelic 
actions, he does nothing to explain or elucidate the conversations as a cultural or 
intellectual formation. 

The most influential (though not necessarily the best documented) account of 
Dee’s conversations has probably been that of Calder’s research supervisor, and 
exponent of the “Hermetic Tradition,” Frances Yates. In her study of “Elizabethan 
Neoplatonism”, The Occult Philosophy of the Elizabethan Age , Yates argued that 
Dee’s angelic conversations were largely based on Agrippa’s De occultaphilosophia, 
which she claimed was Dee’s “main guide in such operations.” 17 This view no doubt 
emerged from her earlier characterization of Dee as participating in “that powerful 
stream of influence, descending from Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, in 
which the so-called Renaissance Neoplatonism is strongly imbued with Hermetic and 
Kabbalist elements.” In her view, Dee’s philosophy represented “a delayed infiltration 
into England of the Hermetic tradition.” 18 As Agrippa had formed an important part of 
her initial formulation of the “Hermetic Tradition,” 19 the identification of Agrippa 
subordinates Dee’s magical practices to her vision of an essentially Hermetic and 
Christian Cabalist “Elizabethan occult Philosophy”. Yates’s account, however, makes 
no attempt to describe or analyse what she calls his “sensational angel-summoning,” 
and she does not quote a single word of the angelic materials, concentrating instead on 
the “Christian Cabalist” elements of the Monas Hieroglyphica. Peter French (another 
of Yates’s students), whose John Dee, The World of an Elizabethan Magus (1972) has 
exerted a powerful influence over many later accounts of Dee, followed Yates’s lead 
in seeing the angelic conversations as primarily Hermetic. Although he notes the 
importance of prayer in Dee’s dealings with the angels, and briefly acknowledges the 
existence of mediaeval precedents, 20 in deference to Yates’s account of the “Hermetic 
Tradition” he prefers to shift the focus on to comparisons with later thinkers. Thus 
Dee’s “intense inner piety” is seen as comparable to that of Agrippa and Bruno, and 
Dee’s overall project is characterized as Hermetic: 

Dee must be classed with such unorthodox religious thinkers as Pico, Agrippa and 
Giordano Bruno. Bruno died as a Heretic after trying to get to the roots of all religion by 
embracing the magical Hermetic religion of the world in its most extreme Egyptian form 
as outlined in the Asclepius. Bruno thought that the revival of true Egyptian religion 
offered a means of reuniting Christendom, and John Dee’s attempts at religious magic 
reveal a similar concern. 21 



234 


S. CLUCAS 


Christopher Whitby, in a 1981 PhD thesis, 22 whilst deferring to Calder, French and 
Yates’s accounts of Dee’s intellectual affiliations, 23 worked more extensively on the 
angelic materials than any of his predecessors, and provided some critical new con¬ 
textual evidence on the question of Dee’s angelic practices - focussing particularly on 
the art of “scrying,” or catoptromancy and crystallomancy. Thus while he initially 
accepts that “the greatest influences upon Dee and Kelley appear to have been 
Agrippa and Reuchlin,” 24 he goes on to observe that Dee’s actions “differed in method 
from the daemonic magic catalogued by Agrippa.” 25 The use of the “shew-stone”, he 
argued, were not consistent with an “intellectual” neoplatonic magic, but belonged to 
a “popular tradition of magic” which “had changed little since the Middle Ages.” 26 
Looking at mediaeval accounts of scrying and sixteenth and seventeenth century 
accounts of the practice by Martin Del Rio and Jules Cesar Boulenger, and accounts of 
English trials, Whitby shows that a substantial part of Dee’s practices owed more to 
popular mediaeval magic than to Hermetic and Neoplatonic precedents. 27 “Despite 
Dee’s acceptance and propagation of the doctrines of natural magic,” Whitby 
concluded, “the art of scrying which he practised was not based upon any tradition of 
natural magic nor upon a mathematical conception of the universe.” 28 In his 1985 
article on “Renaissance scrying” he put it even more forcefully: “[Dee was a] 
practitioner, virtually up to his dying day, of a form of magic that seems to have no 
connection with Hermeticism and the intellectual tradition.” 29 While Whitby’s work at 
recovering the early modem art of scrying marked a substantial advance in 
understanding the context from which Dee’s angelic conversations sprang, in the final 
analysis he attributes the ceremonial side of Dee’s actions - the “seals, talismans, 
combinations of letters, numbers, divine names and ritual invocations” - to Agrippan 
influence, 30 ignoring their common roots in the practices of mediaeval theurgy. 31 

Wayne Shumaker in his 1982 essay on “John Dee’s Conversations with Angels,” 
embraces both French’s characterisation of Dee as “Elizabethan magus,” and Calder’s 
idea of Dee as “neoplatonic sage” despite the fact that Calder himself was unable to 
render the conversations intelligible in terms of his model. 32 Shumaker is quite vague 
about the details of Dee’s angelic practices. Using an approximately contemporary 
typology of magic drawn from Giordano Bmno’s De magia , Shumaker saw Dee as a 
mixture of the various categories, including divination and “the veneration or invo¬ 
cation (<cultus seu invocatio) of angels by prayers, consecrations and other cere¬ 
monies.” 33 While, like Calder, he acknowledges that belief in Spirits was “by no 
means peculiar to Dee,” 34 and that his religious motivations were not untypical 
amongst pious individuals of the period, 35 Shumaker also places an unhelpful emphasis 
on what he calls the “comical insanity” or “weirdness” of the angelic revelations, 36 and 
despite his evocation of contemporary categories of explanation, like Firpo he allows 
his impatience with the “unreliable prophecies” 37 to interfere with his historical 
account of Dee’s thought. Although he has an avowed interest in the occult sciences, 
and stresses the fact that the conversations “deserve attention because they absorbed 
much time and energy,” 38 he is unable to assess the motivations behind them: “nowhere 
in the large book are we struck by observations that look forward to later discoveries or 
are even insightful”, he says, “Not much is learned, and little usefulness can be 
perceived in it.” 39 Shumaker allows his belief that the occult sciences are an anticipation 
of modem science to interfere with his assessment of the conversations, 40 and his main 



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criticism is that (regardless of what Dee himself might have believed) the 
conversations are “not a disciplined and responsible understanding of the physical 
universe,” and that “the information of the kind obtained by Dee in the seances could 
[n]ever, no matter how copiously elaborated, add up to ‘science’.” 41 Concurring with 
Firpo’s “decisively negative judgement” of “the whole later part” of Dee’s career, 
Shumaker ends by consigning Dee to the historical scrap-heap of psychologism. Dee’s 
story, he says, “is full of interest for readers who are bemused by psychological 
curiosities as well as by the possible varieties of intellectual organization.” 42 But it is 
precisely the “varieties of intellectual organization” which are lost in Shumaker’s 
approach, which insists on evaluating the worth of activities with historically alien 
modes of explanation. By foregrounding Dee’s “personality”, “gullibility” and 
“credulity”, Shumaker leaves Dee’s “intellectual orientation [...] [and] occultist 
assumptions” unexamined. 43 

A far more historically imaginative account of the conversations is rendered in 
Nicholas Clulee’s John Dee’s Natural Philosophy (1988). Although Clulee 
distinguishes the angelic conversations from what he calls Dee’s “ significant work in 
natural philosophy and science,” 44 his account represents one of the most informed and 
sympathetic attempts to understand Dee’s actions, and he makes a number of 
illuminating observations about the nature of the practices involved which form the 
starting point for my investigations here. Clulee’s argument begins by suggesting (like 
Shumaker) that Dee’s conversations “cannot be considered as science or natural 
philosophy in its own right,” albeit there are “elements that reflect Dee’s concerns in 
natural philosophy.” Although he begins by suggesting that Dee’s actions are “a kind 
of spirit magic,” 45 he sees these practices as anomalous within the occult tradition of 
Renaissance magic, 46 and goes on to suggest that “Dee did not consider these actions a 
type of magic but as a variety of religious experience.” 47 Dee’s angelic manuscripts, he 
argues, are a record of “what he thought were divine revelations through the angels 
and not a kind of magic”. 48 While I agree that “magic” might be an inappropriate way 
of defining Dee’s practices, I do not subscribe to Clulee’s belief that the conversations 
are essentially passive or petitionary. “The practice of the actions”, Clulee says, “takes 
place in the simple religious atmosphere of Dee’s oratory following a period of silent 
prayer [...]. There is no element of invoking angels and compelling their services.” 
Neither are there “elaborate ritual preparations, quasi-sacramental ceremonies, or 
incantations”, familiar from Agrippa’s magical practices. 49 “Dee’s objective”, he 
concludes “is not the attraction of beneficial influences or the invocation and manip¬ 
ulation of spirits for specific purposes; rather it is to learn and follow God’s will”. 50 
Clulee sees Dee”s conversations as speculative (or contemplative) rather than 
operative, a form of experience rather than a form of agency. It is precisely on this 
issue that I disagree with Clulee’s treatment of the conversations, which are - above 
all - practices. That is to say, attempts at acting upon, and manipulating the world 
(both natural and political) through supernatural means. While I believe he is right to 
direct us back to religious contexts, I think Dee’s conversations prompt a re¬ 
assessment of the boundaries between the agentive and the experiential in devotional 
practices, and rather than being anomalous in the magical tradition are in fact directly 
descended from the religious practices of mediaeval theurgy. 51 



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In her 1996 article, “Shews in the Shewstone,” Deborah Harkness sets out to 
examine the conversations “as cultural artefacts deeply immersed in their own time,” 
in need of “relevant cultural and intellectual contexts” in order for them to become 
legible to modem readers. 52 “To the modem mind”, she says, Dee’s conversations 
appear “to be a confused jumble of strong, though mysterious images conveyed by a 
flat narrative that moves through a series of circumscribed actions.” “But how,” she 
asks, “would it have appeared to its participants?” 53 Although I have some reservations 
about Harkness’s claims that the crystallomantic aspects of Dee’s conversations are 
directly connected to his interest in the mediaeval radiation theories of Robert 
Grosseteste and Roger Bacon, and that this differentiates his spiritual exercises from 
other sixteenth-century practices of this kind, 54 her emphasis on the conversations as 
“multi-dimensional dramatic events,” in which Dee found “symbolic confirmation that 
his work was of great importance” 55 is a sophisticated advance on previous attempts at 
characterising these practices, where the dialogic and performative nature of the 
conversations have been ignored, or dismissed. In her 1999 book, John Dee's Con¬ 
versations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy and the End of the World , as I have already 
indicated, Harkness develops some of the ideas of her “Shewstone” article into a rich, 
detailed and sympathetic account of the conversations as a phenomenon. In her book- 
length study she presents a cogent and well-argued case for seeing Dee’s angelic 
conversations as continuous with the natural philosophical and alchemical interests of 
Dee’s earlier career, and shows how his library formed an important intellectual 
resource for his work of recording (and understanding) angelic revelations. 56 Where 
my treatment differs from that of Harkness - as will become clear - is on the question 
of the extent to which Dee was indebted to mediaeval magical practices. 57 

Despite the advances made by Whitby, Clulee and Harkness, in their con- 
texualization of Dee’s scrying practices, the “Yates thesis” still exerts a considerable 
influence over intellectual historians, and while there have been critical qualifications 
of her characterization of the “occult philosophical tradition,” 58 there has been little 
progress in assessing the vital continuities between mediaeval and Renaissance 
magical traditions, so evident from even a cursory examination of the major European 
archives. In order to achieve a fuller understanding of early modem magic we need to 
expose some of the rhetorically compelling presuppositions of Yates’s history of 
magic and critically re-assess their validity. At the heart of Yates’s account of the 
“Hermetic Tradition” is her characterization of the “barbarous” mediaeval magical 
traditions being superseded and reformed by the “learned” neoplatonic or Cabalist 
traditions of the Renaissance. In this Burckhardtian narrative of the civilizing force of 
Renaissance culture triumphing over narrow mediaevalism, Yates consistently 
underestimates the continuity and persistence of mediaeval magical practices and 
techniques in early-modern magic. In her influential Giordano Bruno and the 
Hermetic Tradition , for example, Yates simultaneously acknowledges and dismisses 
the similarities between mediaeval and Renaissance magical practices: 

There was also a type of mediaeval magic which used names of angels, names of God in 
Hebrew and curious magical arrangements of letters and diagrams. Magicians ascribed 
such magics as these to Moses, and more particularly to Solomon, and one of the most 
characteristic text books of this type of magic was the work known as the Clavis Salo- 
monis which was widely circulated surreptitiously in variant forms. It is probably of this 
type of work that Pico is thinking when he says that his practical Cabala has nothing to do 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


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with wicked magics going under the name of Solomon, Moses, Enoch, or Adam, by 
which demons were conjured by bad magicians. When seen in the context of the lofty 
philosophical mysticism of Cabala and from the stand-point of some real knowledge of 
the Hebrew alphabet, those old magics were seen to be not only wicked, but also ignorant 
and barbarous. They are replaced by practical Cabala, the learned Hebrew magic which 
takes its place beside the learned Neoplatonic magic as one of the two disciplines which 
together make up the Renaissance Magus. 59 

Comparing the “extraordinary change in the status of the magician” to the “change 
in status of the artist from the mere mechanic of the Middle Ages to the learned and 
refined companion of princes of the Renaissance,” she vividly dichotomises the two 
magical traditions: 

Who could recognise the necromancer studying his Picatrix in secret in the elegant Ficino 
with his infinitely refined use of sympathies, his classical incantations, his elaborately 
Neoplatonised talismans? Who could recognise the conjuror, using the barbarous 
techniques of some Clavis Salomonis, in the mystical Pico, lost in the religious ecstasies 
of Kabbalah, drawing archangels to his side? 60 

Although immediately after this she talks of a “kind of continuity” between 
mediaeval and Renaissance magic, the rhetorical force of her presentation sweeps 
aside the possibility that these continuities might have a constitutive function in 
Renaissance magic. Moving briskly through a sketch of the “mingling” of “pagan and 
Jewish sources” in the early mediaeval period, she emphasises the recourse of 
Renaissance magic and Cabala to the “Hermetism, or pagan gnosticism,” which 
preceded them, characterising “Renaissance Magia and its Kabbalah” as “reformed 
revivals of magics ultimately derivable from [ancient] pagan and Jewish gnosticism.” 61 
Yates suggests a filiation for Renaissance magic which stresses the continuity of the 
“learned” Hermetic tradition which she was establishing, and ignores the assimilation 
of mediaeval traditions. Thus she says “Through Reuchlin, Pico’s kabbalist magic 
leads straight on to the angel magic of Trithemius or of Cornelius Agrippa, though 
these magicians were to work it in a more crudely operative spirit than the pious and 
contemplative Pico.” 62 If one examines the canonical texts of Yates’s renaissance 
magic, a different picture emerges (as Yates perhaps involuntarily registers in her 
uneasy reference to the “more crudely operative spirit” of Agrippa). Ficino’s De vita 
triplici , for example, makes repeated references to mediaeval magical sources, 
particularly to those of “the Arabic fraternity,” (in quodam Arabum collegio) such as 
Al-Kindi and Thebit ben Corath, alongside Neoplatonic authorities such as Plotinus, 
Porphyry and Iamblichus, 63 while Johannes Trithemius, the “learned abbot” singled 
out by Yates as a vital influence on the “Cabalist magic” of Cornelius Agrippa (and 
thus a representative of the “new elegant magic”), 64 drew almost exclusively on 
mediaeval sources in his Steganographia. 65 Yates’s basic argument that “mediaeval 
magic was reformed and superseded in the Renaissance by the new style philosophic 
magic,” 66 needs serious re-assessment, and the persistence of mediaeval magical 
traditions and their manuscript transmission in the Renaissance need to be seriously 
investigated. Nicholas Clulee acknowledges the necessity of these kinds of 
investigation in his book on Dee’s “natural philosophy”: 

Although it has become a convention of Renaissance scholarship that magic assumed a 
considerably enhanced intellectual status in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the 
process of assimilating and accommodating the magical heritage of late antiquity began in 
the Middle ages. 67 



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S. CLUCAS 


Clulee rightly emphasises the need for looking more closely at the Renaissance re- 
appropriation and transformation of mediaeval science and magic, and in the case of 
John Dee, the results are particularly instructive. Rather than seeing Renaissance 
magic as “superseding” mediaeval magic, we might consider how the new 
philosophical influences were absorbed into the pre-existing forms of mediaeval 
magic. Although Yates saw the advent of the Hermetic tradition as a privileged 
moment in the parallel histories of religion and magic, 68 it was precisely the fact that 
Renaissance practitioners did not see mediaeval magic as “barbarous” or “dirty” 
which enabled it to persist into the seventeenth century and beyond. 69 When Johann 
Wier attacks these kinds of magic in the middle years of the sixteenth century, his 
critique involuntarily reveals some of the reasons for its continued survival. 
“Theologians and physicians,” Wier argued, should: 

strive by every effort to banish this most pernicious and deceitful art far from the 
sacred rites of our Religion and drive it wholly away from the camp of divine 
Medicine, since it has befouled both disciplines with its specious exorcisms, its 
barbarous invocations, its litany of unknown names, its abuse of the Sacred Word, 
and its amulets, peripats and charms. 70 

It is precisely the comfortable co-existence of magic with the “sacred rites” of 
Christianity, the co-optation or adaptation of devotional practices, which Wier is 
attacking. Comparing the spurious attributions of mediaeval magical arts to patriarchs 
and saints to the apocryphal pseudo-Gospels attacked by Jerome and Augustine, 71 he 
objects to what he sees as the profane appropriation of Christian rites in mediaeval 
magic. The magicians are “architects of abomination” who have “fabricated these 
books from certain pagan observations, with ceremonies of our own religion 
designedly mixed in - the better to deceive, as though from ambush.” 72 He objects to 
what he calls the “misuse” of sacred scriptures and prayer in these arts: “if any verse 
from Psalms or any other section of Sacred Scripture is thought apposite for [the] 
desired purpose, it is mixed in with the [magical] prayers.” He also condemns the 
“invocation of good spirits,” in which, “after much ranting and raving, Psalm 119 
“Blessed are the undefiled in the way” is recited on bended knee, along with the 
divine names of the angels.” 73 But while Wier condemns these “blasphemous prayers 
to God” as an abuse, it seems clear that it was precisely the religiosity and piety of 
these practices (and their continuities with more “orthodox” forms of devotion) which 
ensured their survival. The legitimacy of mediaeval theurgy was endorsed by the 
continued validity of the religious structures of experience upon which they were 
based, and while some religious practitioners (such as Wier in Germany, or William 
Perkins in England) energetically sought to inscribe “magic” outside of the legitimate 
domains of religious praxis, the possibility of construing theurgy as a legitimate form 
of devotion remained open. It is precisely the intricate relationship between the fields 
we now define as “religion” and “magic”, and the boundaries between them, which 
cause the most difficulty for modem commentators. In his influential 1958 study, 
Spiritual and Demonic Magic , D.P. Walker suggested that there were real disciplinary 
problems in accounting for Renaissance magic as an intellectual or practical activity 
because magic was often “on the point of turning into art, science, practical 
psychology, or, above all, religion,” because there was a “real overlapping of the 
fields of all these activities” in the Renaissance. 74 While this is substantially tme, it 
seems likely that the “overlapping” (and the definitional distinctness of the “fields”) is 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


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more a product of our anachronistic inability to account for the uniqueness of 
Renaissance intellectual, practical and cultural formations, than a real characteristic of 
those formations. Did Renaissance practitioners experience their activities in terms of 
“overlapping fields,” or procedural hybridity, or did they view them as integrated 
practices? 

This brings me to my own characterisation of Dee’s angelic conversations, in 
which, as far as possible, I shall attempt to reconstruct the ways in which Dee 
perceived and defined his own activities. It is with this objective in mind that I shall 
begin with an interrogation of some of the terms which Dee used to describe his 
practices, before going on to consider the extent of his reliance on the theurgical 
tradition. It is worth bearing in mind, given Clulee’s characterisation of Dee’s 
conversations as “a variety of religious experience”, that Dee himself tended to use a 
religious and devotional vocabulary when discussing his activities. At various points 
Dee refers to his dealings with the angels as “exercises” or “actions” (or uses the Latin 
“actio”). He refers to his “mysticall exercises,” 75 or to the “Exercise 
HEPTARCHICAL.” 76 The word “exercise” (and the Latin “exercitium”) designated a 
wide range of devotional practices, including acts of preaching or prophesying, or 
other forms of public and private worship. 77 Archbishop Whitgift, for example, 
referred to “exercises” as “praying, singing of psalms, interpreting and prophesying,” 78 
and Dee himself refers to the inspired Biblical interpretation of the puritan Roger 
Edwardes as “spiritual exercises.” 79 Even more frequently he talks of each particular 
session of angelic colloquy as an “Action,” 80 and refers to one of his sessions with the 
scryer Barnabas Saul as “Actio Saulina.” 81 The words “Action” and “Actio”, besides 
their judicial and theatrical usages, had a particular set of ecclesiastical meanings in 
the mediaeval and Renaissance period. In Cicero and Quintilian “actio” designated an 
oratorical act or utterance or its accompanying physical gestures, 82 and this rhetorical 
usage carried over into ecclesiastical Latin to designate liturgical orations, sung or 
spoken masses, benedictions, and prayers and orations. 83 The related verbal noun 
“actitio” meant to discuss, to transact, or to enact, 84 and Dee’s “conversations” seem to 
invoke all of these overlapping senses at various times. Dee’s designation of his 
records of his angelic colloquies of 1581-3 as the Liber Mysteriorum , or “Book of 
Mysteries”, continues the religious orientation implied by exercise and action. 
“Mystery” or “Mysterium,” although originally applied by Church fathers such as 
Eusebius and Clement of Alexandria to refer to the religious secrets of the pagans, was 
gradually appropriated in the middle ages to designate eschatological or providential 
mysteries, revelations, sacred teachings, scriptural truths (especially allegorical or 
anagogical meanings), and ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies, such as the mass and 
the Eucharist. 85 Dee talks about his angelic transactions as “the HEPTARCHICAL 
Mysterie” or “the whole Heptarchicall Reuelation,” and refers to “these revealed 
mysteries,” 86 and it is clear from the many and varied acts of prophetic self- 
fashioning, 87 that Dee saw his angelic dealings as a prophetic dispensation, a “special 
gift” or extraordinary election or grace from God granting him “mercifull cumfort and 
instruction, through the ministery of his holy and myghty Angels.” 88 But this 
“Comfortable Instruction,” as the continual stress on “heptarchy” (or “rule by 
sevens”) 89 as the basis of an “art” suggests, is conceived by Dee as a praxis or 
instrumental discipline as well as a divine revelation. The heptarchical revelation is 
presented to him as a “boke of [...] secrets” which is also a “key of this world,” 90 and 



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the angels promise not only understanding but “use”. The angel Carmara assures Dee 
that the “gouemement of the [angelic] Princes,” which is being revealed to him is both 
“ a Mystery to a farder matter ,” and “a purpose to a present vse,” - “Thow desyrest 
vse, I teache use,” Carmara tells him, revealing that the “Art is to the farder 
Vnderstanding of all Sciences , that are past, present or [...] yet to com[m]e.” 91 A 
similar ambiguity underlies Dee’s presentation of the occult secrets of the Monas 
Hieroglyphica , which are seen as “ Mysteries ,” (Mysteria ) 92 and refers to his art in 
terms of a revelation or “Mystagogy” ( Mystagogiam ), 93 but also relates it to occult 
practices or instrumental arts such as alchemy, referring to his teaching as “a kind of 
adeptship” ( ADEPTIVO genere ), 94 or even a “mechanical magic” ( Mechanica nostra 
[...] Magia ). 95 Dee never uses the word “magia” when referring to his dealings with the 
angels, and given his persistent self-definition of his practices in terms of religious 
exercise, it would seem that we need to re-position Dee’s heptarchical art within his 
own sense of Christian profession or devotional practice. In a letter to William Cecil 
in 1574, defending his interests in practical arts based on “vision” or “iterated 
dreames,” Dee asserted that it was his conviction that he should “do nothing, but that, 
which may stand with the profession of a true Christian,” 96 and in his correspondence 
with the puritan Roger Edwardes insisted on the “other Christian allowable means of 
discussinge and deciphringe the manifold mysteries, by the holy Spirit deliuered and 
left to our instruction,” than simple biblical interpretation. 97 It is clear that for Dee 
Christian “profession” entailed a variety of “allowable means,” which could 
encompass both prophetic-visionary and practical-instrumental activities. 98 The 
heptarchical art was essentially an act of prophecy which encompassed a set of 
operative and instrumental desires, it is an “art” as well as a “reuelation”, a “purpose 
to a present vse” in the natural world as well as a religious “exercise”. As a specific 
intellectual and practical formation, then, Dee’s angelic conversations are 
characterised by an inextricable co-involvement of what we think of as the separate 
spheres of “orthodox” religious practices and a set of instrumental desires. The 
inseparability of these apparently separate spheres or domains in Dee’s art suggest that 
we should try to conceptualise it as a form of operative practice which has its 
constitutive roots in religious forms, as a development or expansion of “allowable 
means”. Such “expanded” religious techniques were not a recent innovation in 
sixteenth-century England, and I would suggest that the procedures and practices 
which constituted Dee’s “exercises” closely adhere to the forms and techniques of 
mediaeval theurgy, in which the boundaries of devotional practice and operative 
desire are similarly ill-defined. Pseudo-Solomonic theurgy was itself a premonitory 
“mysticall exercise” (viewed by its practitioners as “an inestimable sacrament” and 
“great mistery”) 99 which stressed its continuities with devotional practices, and played 
a vital, albeit neglected role in shaping many operative “arts” or practices which we 
have come to think of as Renaissance “magic”. 


2. “ISTIUS SACRATISSIMAE ARTIS VEL OPERACIONIS”: 

THE PSEUDO-SOLOMONIC TRADITION 

One of the principal reasons for the omission of the ars notoria from earlier accounts 
of Renaissance magic is undoubtedly the fact that it was primarily a manuscript 
phenomenon. In the early-modern period, the only printed version of this magical 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


241 


tradition I have been able to find was a translation by Robert Turner in 1657. 100 The 
large number of surviving manuscripts (many of them dating from the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries), shows, however, that this lack of printed editions by no means 
reflects a lack of interest in this tradition on the part of Renaissance scholars. I would 
suggest, however, that John Dee’s own theurgic practices were shaped at every level 
by a knowledge of the Pseudo-Solomonic tradition, rather than by what Yates calls the 
“Occult” or “Hermetic” Philosophy of Neoplatonic magic. Nicholas Clulee has 
already shown the central importance of the mediaeval inheritance for characterizing 
Dee’s occult scientific outlook, 101 I propose to show that mediaeval theurgy was an 
equally important component of his “spirit actions”. I shall begin with an outline of 
the practices described in some of the surviving Pseudo-Solomonic manuscripts, 
before going on to compare them to the magical practices of Dee’s Liber Mysteriorum 
and related manuscript records of his angelic conversations in Europe. 

The tradition of Pseudo-Solomonic theurgy includes a number of closely related 
texts, variously known as the Liber Sacer, the Flos aureos , the Liber Virtutis , the 
Liber Sefer Raziel , the Ars Notoria , and the Clovis Salomonis. Although there is some 
variation in the practices described in these texts, there is a common core of attributes. 
All of them claim to pass on techniques and mysteries which had originally been 
revealed to King Solomon through a ministering angel sent to him by God. The 
various practices promise the practitioner or operator a means of attaining a vast 
knowledge and power by mediate or immediate revelation. This revelation is attained 
through a mixture of ceremonial ascetic preparation, prayers and orations (including 
the use of a mystical language, unhelpfully described by Lynn Thorndike as 
“gibberish”), 102 and the use of a variety of talismanic instruments, including “shew- 
stones”, carved rings, tables, angelic “seals”, pentagonal, quadrangular and other 
elaborately inscribed diagrams. 

The Pseudo-Solomonic texts are particularly insistent on the need for ascetic 
regimen - the regimen animarum which Gregory had bequeathed to the middle ages 
as the ars artium m - with its attendant mortifying corporeal practices. The practitioner 
must be “well confessed, and fast on bread and water for three days, and he must not 
eat until all the stars are in the sky [...] and give alms to the poor”. 104 He must “fast 
during the days which he looks upon the diagrams”. 105 He must only call on the angels 
and God “after having acquired the grace of God” by “good works, confession, fasting 
[and] chastity”. 106 He must be “pure and unpolluted, and make his devotions 
disingenuously, neither eating nor drinking”. 107 He must be “very penitent and trewly 
confessed of all his sinnes, he must vtterly forbere the company of women and all 
there intycements, in so much that he may nott looke upon them [...] [nor] kepe no 
company with wicked or sinfull men [...] [and] lett not his apparryll be filthe but rather 
new, or elles very cleane waschyd.” 108 Some of the texts also call for purifying 
suffumigations with amber, musk, aloe, mastick, thyme, myrrh, balsam, and other 
herbs or spices, 109 and the use of pure materials such as “virgin parchemyn[t]” of “silke 
or [...] parchemyn[t] of a lambe or of a kidde virgin or of a [...] fawne virgin” or ink 
made from “cleane galls & [...] good white wine.” 110 The seventeenth-century 
physician Arthur Gauntlett of Grays Inn Lane, records two schedules of “Instructions” 
for operators, attributed to St Cyprian and Ptolemy, which draw on these precepts, 
which include the injunction to “cleane thy Hands and feete before the sight of the 



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Signes and Characters of Salomon”, and cleaning “thy hands and face and par[ing] 
[...] thy nailes both of Hands and feete” 111 

The texts also specify that the practice must be undertaken in a secret, private and 
purified place: “a secret place, such as in a church, a private courtyard, or a garden”, 112 
“an house or a cleane place made cleane well with beesomes & washen & watred & 
suffumed.” 113 One must “do ne saye with thys booke in none vncleane place [...] but 
fastinge earlye in hollye ether priuye place; as with greate devotion kneelynge in holly 
churche, ether in thy chambre privilye.” 114 The operator must be “alone [...] unless he 
is a master of the art who is giving instructions in the operation”. 115 It must be a “secret 
room, clean, pure and free from cobwebs and dust, secure - only you shall sleep there, 
it shall be neatly bolted, and contain a small table like an altar covered with clean 
linen, and a candelabra on it with two candles which have been blessed burning on it 
for purification.” 116 

The ars notoria is also heavily indebted to mediaeval astrology - the earliest texts 
(and some of the later exemplars) stress its astrological basis. A thirteenth-century 
manuscript of the Flores aureos , for example, sees the ars notoria as one of the 
“liberal arts” ( Artium [...] liberalium ) for the attainment of knowledge and learning in 
all the sciences ( eruditionem et cognitionem omnium scientiarum), based on “the 
understanding of astronomy or astrology” ( de cognitione astronomiae siue 
astrologiae ). 117 A late fifteenth-century text of the Sefer Raziel suggests that “The key 
of this booke is to knowe & wile the places of the 7 [planetary] bodies aboue & their 
natures”. 118 Many of the practices thus include stipulations as to the time of practice, 
especially in relation to the lunar calendar, 119 and involve angelic spirits identified with 
planetary bodies. 120 Many of the texts also stipulate that the practitioner must face 
eastwards, sometimes on his knees or prostrate. 121 

Having made these elaborate preparations, the operator then undertakes a series of 
orations and prayers. These include conventional precatory genres, such as the seven 
penitential psalms, and Sabbath orations, 122 hymns to the Virgin Mary, 123 or liturgical 
texts, 124 but also prayers and orations which are fashioned specifically as petitions for 
revealed knowledge or for the fulfilment of particular desires , which are texts in Latin 
combined with “mistica verba sanctaru[m] orationu[m] et [...] nomina sanctoru[m] 
angeloru[m]” 125 which are variously seen as a primordial Adamic language, or ur- 
Hebrew, or Chaldee, 126 although to the modem reader many of the words seem to be 
corruptions of Greek, Hebrew and Arabic words for God, divine attributes, angels or 
virtues. To give you an example of this, at the same time as illustrating the textual 
continuity of the ars notoria manuscript tradition, I have chosen two virtually identical 
passages from a Pseudo-Solomonic oration, the first from a thirteenth-century and the 
second from a late-sixteenth or early seventeenth-century manuscript: 

angeli sancti diuini dei quos eligit ad intellectom hominibus ad augendwm qui dei estis 
arcaogeli propter po/Vvtatem sanctorum dei. Potestas angelorum deus v/rtutes eo rum 
Geloc Gesomoloc monepimar. anainemom. zemaloi. 127 

Angeli sancti Dei viui, quos eligit ad intellectum hominibus ad augendum; du m estis 
archangeli propter potestates angelorum sanctorum et virtutes eorum, Heloy, 
Gessemolyhc, Nepaymo, primai, Hauenos, Zamalay. 128 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


243 


Although there is pronounced evidence of textual corruption (or adaptation and 
reinvention) at work here, both in the Latin and in the “mystical names,” we can still 
see strong resemblances between the two orations. 

The action-specific prayers and precatory orations which intersperse these 
“magical orations” can be classified into various kinds of precatory themes. The most 
important are 1) Protestations of humility and righteousness, (or legitimating 
clauses), 129 2) Vehement requests for revealed knowledge or fulfilled desires (or 
desiderative clauses), 130 3) Requests for protection from evil incursions, especially 
from evil spirits or demons (i.e. protective clauses), 131 4) Pleas for aid or help (i.e. 
auxiliary clauses); 132 5) Insistence on divine rather than human agency in the 
subsequent actions (i.e. mediatory clauses). 133 Obviously there is a degree of overlap 
here with the themes and clauses of conventional precatory genres, and I feel that the 
operative dimensions of traditional prayer need more careful consideration as a 
structural prehistory of Christian theurgy. 134 

The “holy mystical characters” used in the magical orations include the names or 
“seals of angels”, the “signs” of planetary spirits, and also the “names of god” 
(nomina dei) or semaphoras ( schemphoras , sememphoras, semoforax), 135 which are 
presumably drawn from contemporary mediaeval Jewish mystical texts. A late 
fifteenth-century manuscript of the Liber Raziel , for example, includes seven 
semophoras , “written in the book of life” (scriptum in lib[er] vitae ), 136 the “seuen 
keyes of the world”, 137 which are the “lettres & words and names [...] which god the 
Creator gaue to Adam in paradise”, including yana the “semofor in which the creator 
formed Adam in [...] paradise” and “ yeferaye ”, a word given to Adam when he “spake 
with the Angell”. 138 The utterance of these “semofors” (or semaphoras) allows mortals 
to speak with angels, and grants them operative powers. 139 The arts also include a 
variety of talismanic instruments, “tables”, “figures”, “rings”, “seales”, etc, the most 
important of which was an elaborate series of interlocking polygons decorated with 
letters known as the nota or sigillum dei. 140 

The practice of Pseudo-Solomonic magic, then, appears to have involved the 
burning of suffumigations, the pronunciation of the orations, prayers and magical 
names of God and his angels, and the contemplation, or “inspection” of the talismans 
or “figures”, and sometimes the use of “stones”, “glasses”, or “crystals”. 141 What was 
it that the magical operators hoped to achieve using these techniques? This varies 
slightly according to the particular Pseudo-Solomonic text, but can be divided 
between the attainment of revealed knowledge, and the attainment of magical 
operative powers. The ars notoria in particular, was presented - like contemporary 
Lullist arts or magical ars memorativa - as a means of magically attaining proficiency 
in the liberal arts in an unusually short time. 142 By “inspecting” (rather than reading ) 143 
a variety of diagrams inscribed with orations, together with magical prayers, 
knowledge of the various arts would be infused directly into the heart of the 
practitioner by the angels. 144 He would possess, acquire and retain in the memory the 
arts he desired to master. 145 Thus the ars notoria included a series of discipline-specific 
“figures” - for grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, music, physics, arithmetic and 
astronomy. 146 The art culminates in a figure of “general science”, an art of arts, which 



244 


S. CLUCAS 


would include knowledge of all subordinate disciplines. 147 This encyclopaedic ability 
to “obtayne all syences”, is augmented in other Pseudo-Solomonic texts to include a 
variety of divinatory and operative powers, potentially unlimited in scope. They can 
include the ability to “know all thinges present past and to comme”, to “alter or 
chaunge the influence of the planetts and sterres”, to attain “Knoledge off the nature of 
man and of all his dyedes and his thoughtes”, or “to distroy a kingdome or an 
empire”. 148 

Having outlined the techniques and intentions of the Pseudo-Solomonic magical 
practitioners, let us now turn back to John Dee’s angelic conversations. What, if any, 
are the shared characteristics of Pseudo-Solomonic theurgy and Dee’s “heptarchicall 
art”? First of all, we should note a number of explicit references to Solomon in the 
Liber Mysteriorum. Dee is told by the angel Uriel, for example, that “As truely as I 
was with Salomon, so truely I be with the[e]”, 149 while one of the angelic “Princes”, 
Befafes, also claims: “I was with Salomon; [and] was also (vnknown) with Scotus [i.e. 
Michael Scot].” 150 Dee is also presented with a vision of “a Ring of Gold: with a seale 
graued in it,” which “was neuer reuealed since the death of Salomon [...] wherewith all 
Miracles, and diuine works and wonders were wrowght by Salomon.” 151 Despite the 
fact that Dee relates this seal to a printed reference in Reuchlin’s De Verbo Mirifico , 152 
we should also be conscious of a considerable mediaeval manuscript literature on 
Solomon’s rings - the De quatuor annulis - from which this type of “seal” is 
ultimately derived. 153 Dee’s art also imitates the ritual preparations of the Pseudo- 
Solomonic tradition, including its prescriptions regarding bodily hygiene, diet, and 
spatial seclusion: “Thow must prepare thy self, to prayer and fasting”, he is instructed, 
“In all thy doings be Secret: and in all thy doings praying, tyll thow hast thy desyre.” 154 
Just as the Pseudo-Solomonic operator can only work with a single associate ( a vero 
socius), 155 so Dee is told by his angelic interlocutors that “None shall enter into the 
knowledge of these Mysteries with the[e] but this worker [i.e. Kelley]”. 156 

Dee’s art also draws some of its most important techniques and instruments from 
the mediaeval tradition. Although the prayers and orations used in the actions which are 
recorded in the Liber Mysteriorum do not incorporate complete orations written in the 
“magical language”, the prayers collected in the De Heptarchia Mystica from this 
period show Dee incorporating the divine names (nomina Dei), or semaphoras 
(revealed angelic names) of the Pseudo-Solomonic type, and the “parcells of Inuitations 
very pleasant to good Angels” communicated in the spring of 1583 are written entirely 
in the “Angelicall Language”, 157 written in a revealed alphabet of hieroglyphic 
characters, 158 and we know that on at least one occasion Kelley used this “angelic 
language” whilst praying during the actions. 159 The Claues Angelicae (angelic keys), or 
“boke of secrets”, which was dictated to Dee at that time, was a series of angelic names 
purporting to be a “key of this world,” 160 which were designed to be used operatively in 
much the same way as the magical language of the ars notoria. The “49 partes of this 
boke” which supposedly contained 49 languages spoken simultaneously, were voices 
“wherevnto the so many powres [...] shalbe obedient”. Uttering these angelic words 
would transform him “from a mortall creature,” 161 and upon hearing them God’s angels 
would be “forced [...] to render obedience and faithful society. Wherein they will open 
the mysteries of their creation [...] and give [...] understanding of many thousand 
secrets”. 162 Dee was also given divine names in the form of talismanic figures, such as 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


245 


the combinatorial “Tablet” given to Dee by Michael, the seven component letters of 
which were supposed to be “the 7 seats of the one and euerlasting GOD [...] euery letter 
conteyning an Angel of brightnes,” which “expelleth euyll spirits, qualifieth the Waters, 
strengtheneth the lust, exalteth the righteous, and destroyeth the wicked,” and were a 
“sufficient BOND to vrge all Creatures to life or death.” 163 This stress on the angelical 
and mystical significance of seven, while it is not uniquely found in Pseudo-Solomonic 
theurgy, is a definite structural characteristic which links the mediaeval practices to 
Dee’s heptarchical art which also “governs by sevens”. 164 The most significant link 
between Dee’s heptarchical art and the practices of Pseudo-Solomonic theurgy, how¬ 
ever, is his use of a talismanic instrument known as the sigillum dei or the sigillum 
JZmeth. 165 Dee’s own sigillum (Plate 14) seems to have been closely modelled on the 
seal in his own manuscript copy of the Liber sacer (or Liber juratus) which dates from 
the late-fourteenth or early-fifteenth century, 166 (Plate 15) although his reference to 
having “considered divers fashions of this seal: and [...] found them much differing,” 
seems to confirm that he had access to a number of manuscript sources for his proposed 
imitation. 167 It seems clear, then, that while Dee glosses the passage in his manuscript 
dealing with the sigillum dei with references to printed works by Reuchlin and 
Agrippa, 168 he was using Pseudo-Solomonic manuscripts as his primary source, and 
neither Reuchlin nor Agrippa contain visual representations of the seal which Dee could 
have copied. 

Dee’s heptarchical art also seems to have included some of the aims and intentions 
of the ars notoria. The heptarchical art is, for example, conceived in part as a universal 
science, or “ars generalis”, being the key “to the farder vnderstanding of all Sciences, 
that are past, present or [...] yet to comme”, 169 a “Threefold Art” which promises 
“knowledge of the ’WORLDE, the 2 GOVERNEMENT of his Creatures, and the 
3 SIGHT of his Maiestie”. 170 That is, a universal art which would give Dee control over 
the natural and the political world, as well as a privileged revelation of God’s presence. 
Just as the Liber sacer taught how “a man shulde obteyne his will by euery angell”, 171 
so Dee is promised that this practice will be the “ende and consummation” of all his 
desires. 172 Just as Pseudo-Solomonic magic promises knowledge of natural things, such 
as alchemy and astrology, as well as political powers, such as “to haue power over 
euery man”, “to cause unyte and Concorde”, or “to haue a 1000 armed men [...] [and] 
forme a castell that shall neuer be dystroyed”, 173 so Dee is promised not only powers 
over the natural world but powers which will enable him to be “profitable to your 
Cuntrie”, 174 by “quietting of [...] estates [...] [and] pacifying of the Nobilitie”, by access 
to those angels which govern the “Exaltation and Gouemement of Princis [...] 
Cownsayle and Nobilitie”, and those responsible for “Gayne and Trade of 
Merchandise”. 175 


3. “THE KEY OF PRAYER”: JOHN DEE AND 
THE PSEUDO-SOLOMONIC ORATION 

Even in the absence of such explicit associations of Dee’s practices with the Pseudo- 
Solomonic tradition as the use of the sigillum dei , we could identify its affinities by a 
close examination of its precatory techniques. Like the Pseudo-Solomonic operators, 
Dee’s “mysticall exercises” utilize a combination of conventional and “action-specific” 



246 


S. CLUCAS 


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Mysteriorum , Department of Manuscripts, British Library, Sloane MS 3188, f. 30 r . 
(By permission of the British Library). 















ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


247 


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Solomonic Liber Juratus [7? & W, DM 70], Department of Manuscripts, British 
Library, Sloane MS 313. f. 4 r . (By permission of the British Library). 


248 


S. CLUCAS 


prayers and orations requesting angelic revelation. In a prefatory apologetic prayer, “Ad 
omnipotentiam Deum protestatio fidelis <ad> p[er]petuam rei memoriam,” dated 1582, 
Dee described his active pursuit of revealed “radicall truthe” by “extraordinary guift” in 
the fashion of “Salomon the wise” and other prophets who had “enioyed [... the] fauor 
& conuersation” of God rather than rational knowledge. He rejects the “vulgar schole- 
doctrine or humane invention” and “reasonable discourse,” reminding himself 

what good Counsell the Apostle James giveth, saying, Si quis vestrum careat sapientia, 
postulat a Deo, &c. And that Salomon the wise, did so, euen immediately by thy self, 
atteyne to his wonderfull wisdom . 176 

During one of his conversations of April 1584, Dee reassures himself of the legiti¬ 
macy of his communications with angels, whose truthfulness is guaranteed by prayer: 

seeing I have many years desired, and prayed for wisdome (such as these Actions import) at 
his hands, and by such means as to his Divine Majesty seemeth best, [I believed] that he 
would not either mislike my prayer, or abuse my Constant hope in his goodnesse and 
mercy: Therefore I concluded that I referred all to the mercifull will of God, and doubted 
nothing at the length to be satisfied of my request, and prayer made unto him . 177 

For Dee the faithfulness of his prayer, and his submission to divine will are indis¬ 
putable warrants of the success of his ventures, granting him an assurance which is 
secured on gospel teachings concerning faith and its powers. Like the Pseudo- 
Solomonic operator who relied upon the power of operative prayer, 178 Dee’s “exercises” 
relied on immediate precatory communication with God and his angels. “I did fly vnto 
thee by hearty prayer”, he says in the “Protestatio fidelis”, “in sundry manners, 
sometime crying unto thee, Mitte lucem tuam, & veritatem, quae me ducant, & 
sometime Recte sapere & intelligere docete me, nam sapientia tua totum est quod volo: 
Sometime da verbum tuum in oro meo & sapientiam tuam in corde meo fige.” 179 Such 
prayers for “True knowledge” (Recte sapere) and the infusion of knowledge by 
“extraordinary gift,” are characteristic of the precatory orations of the Pseudo- 
Solomonic art. In the ars notoria, for example, the operator prays for illumination in the 
science of astronomy with the following prayer: 

Deus qui multitudinem stellaru[m] solus numeras et terra[m] palmo mensuras, et montiu[m] 
altitudine[m] conspicis: Da mihi recte sapere , et cognita subtili indagatione perquirere, et 
intelligere, et discemere, vt Astronomiae habita scientiae notitia, cognoscendo et intendendo 
eius magnitudinem et subtilitatem . 180 

It is interesting to note, however, that Dee’s “hearty prayers” for wisdom are in fact 
drawn verbatim from a collection of psalmic prayers written by the Henrican Catholic 
martyr, John Fisher (whom Erasmus had praised as a “man of singular piety and 
erudition”). 181 Fisher’s Psalmi sen Precationes was a collection of extemporary prayers, 
modelled on the psalms, frequently referred to by Dee as a text being used as part of the 
precatory fabric of his angelic conversations. 182 Fisher’s fifth Psalm, “Pro impetranda 
sapientia diuina,” 183 like the Pseudo-Solomonic prayers for wisdom, is a fervent request 
for the direct infusion of wisdom by God: 

Domine Deus misericordiae qui o mni a uerbo 
tuo fecisti, & sapientia tua constituisti hominem. [...] 

Cor nouum & spiritum rectum intra me pone, 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


249 


omneque desiderium prauum procul a me repelle. [...] 

Mitte de caelo spiritum sapientiae tuae, 

& sensu illius cor meum imple. 

Sapientia tua dat veram scientiam, 

& ex ore tuo consilium & intelligent^. [...] 

Firmetur sapientia in animo meo, 

& legem tuam in corde meo scribe . 184 

The occurrence of such a prayer in Bishop Fisher’s collection of extemporary 
prayers (which also includes a number of orthodox prayers for the remission of sins, 
and protection from temptation), suggests that the precatory orations of the Pseudo- 
Solomonic art developed out of pre-existing modes of extemporary prayer and private 
forms of devotion. The plea for personal illumination, a permissible use of conventional 
private prayer, became the primary focus and objective of the Pseudo-Solomonic 
exercises. We are fortunate to have a number of extant examples of Dee’s own 
extemporary prayers of this type, which, like the Pseudo-Solomonic prayers, combined 
general requests for wisdom, and more particular and specific requests for certain kinds 
of knowledge. An early example, dated 1579, is a Latin petitionary “evening and 
morning oration” - “Pro sapientia,” 185 which, beginning with his quotation from 
Fisher’s psalm, develops into a more specifically “philosophical” prayer (in the sense 
that it explicitly invokes a philosophical community: “the pious, wise and expert Philo¬ 
sophers”), and requests the aid of specific angels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel) 
to instruct him perfectly and exactly in God’s “arcana and miracles.” Similar prayers 
recorded in his De Heptarchia Mystica, make his debt to Pseudo-Solomonic oration 
even clearer. These “pious and devout invitations” (Pia, Deuotaque Invitationes), m are 
a series of prayers addressed to God, the “good Heptarchical angels” ( Bonorum 
Angeloru[m] Heptarchicoru[m /), and other groups of angels with specific respon¬ 
sibilities (those with knowledge of stones and metals, medicine, the four elements, the 
mechanical arts, etc), 187 requesting various kinds of knowledge and power “for the 
auancing of the Honor and Glorie of our Almighty God.” 188 These prayers are clearly 
invocations (he requires the presence of the various angels), and requests (albeit 
mediated) for instrumental power: 

In the Name of Almighty GOD, the King of Kings, And for his honor, and Glory, to be 
aduanced by my faithfull service, I require the[e] O Noble Prince, (N,) to COM[M]E 
presently, and to shew thy self, to my perfect and Sensible eye Iudgment, With thy 
Ministers, servants and subiects, to my cumfort, and help, in wisdome, and Powre, 
according to the propertie of thy Noble Office: COM[M]E, O Noble Prince (N.) I say 
COM[M]E, Amen. 

We have here the same concatenation of precatory clauses to be found in the 
Pseudo-Solomonic orations: the legitimating clauses (“by my faithful service”), 
desiderative clauses (“I require the[e] [...] to shew thy self [...] to my cumfort and helpe, 
in wisdome and Powre”), mediatory clauses (“In the Name of Almighty God [...] and 
for his honor, and Glory”). Most of the prayers include protective clauses, insisting on 
the presence of “true and faithfull Angels of light,” who come “in a godly and frendly 
manner,” 189 and Dee frequently records the use of prayers “contra demones” in addition 
to these general calls for protection from conversation with evil spirits. 190 The most 
significant feature which Dee’s “heptarchical invitations” share with Pseudo-Solomonic 



250 


S. CLUCAS 


oration, is their employment of “divine names” (nomina dei ) as instruments, and 
particularly “revealed” divine names (i.e. names not drawn from scriptural sources). 
The prayers in the De Heptarchica Mystica feature, for example, the “Twelve names of 
God [...] which govern the visible and invisible creatures of the earth,” drawn from a 
cruciform table of divine names known as the “line of the holy spirit,” revealed by the 
angel Ave in June 1584, 191 these “names” are “MOR, DIAL, HCIGA, OIP, TEAA, 
PDOCE, MPH, ARSL, GAIOL, ORO, IBAH, AOZEI,” and are invoked in the course 
of precatory expostulations in the manner of the Pseudo-Solomonic oration. 192 

These “invitations” can only be understood fully in the generic context of the 
Pseudo-Solomonic theurgical rites, whose Latin petitionary orations are Dee’s model. 
These “fervent prayers made to God, for [...] instruction, throwgh the ministery of his 
holy and myghty Angel[s]”, became a fundamental part of Dee’s practice from his first 
recorded dealings with angels in December 1581 with Barnabas Saul as his “seer”. 193 
Dee constantly refers to prayers which he calls “particular invitations,” or “Ejaculations 
appropriate to the action.” 194 These are “action-specific” prayers of the kind recorded in 
the Heptarchica Mystica. Like the Pseudo-Solomonic prayers on which they are based, 
these prayers are essentially requests for divine illumination or wisdom, or help, 195 and 
include variations on the phrases “Mitte lucem tuam” (send [me] your light) and “Da 
mihi Recte sapere” (give me right knowledge), which Dee appropriated from Fisher’s 
fifth Psalm, but also feature prominently in Pseudo-Solomonic orations. 196 While many 
of the prayers are general requests for illumination, Dee (like the Pseudo-Solomonic 
“magister,” or “operator”) often made requests for knowledge or help of a highly 
specific and instrumental nature. For example, when Dee is asked for specific guidance 
by Edward Kelley and John Husey concerning a “moniment of a boke and a skroll” 
which they had supposedly found at “Northwik hill”, he uses a variation of the “mitte 
lucem” prayer to ask for help with this specific task: “O beata Trinitas, mitte lucem et 
veritate[m] tuam, vt ip[s]a me ducant ad montem sanctum, et ad tabemacula tua ,” 197 and 
during his political involvements in Eastern Europe he would often pray for advice on 
worldly matters, making a “motion for the Lord Al[bert] Las[key] how to deal with the 
Chancelour,” for example. 198 More often his requests relate to help with particular 
aspects of the angelic revelations, asking, for example, for help with collating the texts 
of the conversations, 199 supplying missing words, characters, or numbers, or simply for 
the granting of a particular audience or vision. The angels who appear in the visions 
constantly exhort Dee and Kelley to prayer, sometimes offering them prayers to imitate. 
Thus during the Cracow conversations of 1584, the angel Gabriel offers a conventional 
prayer for mercy and fortification, and Dee and Kelley “pray the same prayer.” 200 The 
angels also confirm Dee in his precatory practices by describing to him the prayers and 
angelic “Calls” of the prophet Enoch which, like the Pseudo-Solomonic theurgy, are 
based on prayers “desiring” the ministry of the angels “in and through [the] holy 
names” of God. 201 

While these action-specific prayers are fundamental to the conversations, it is 
important to acknowledge the vital role played by “conventional” forms of prayer in 
Dee’s dealings with the angels, and the continuities between these conventional forms 
and “magical” prayer. As we have seen, Wier attacked the “blasphemous prayers” of 
these magicians, who “designedly mixed” incantations, psalms, and other conventional 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


251 


prayers, and Dee, like the Pseudo-Solomonic magicians before him, also depended 
heavily on the operative power of conventional prayer, and especially the psalms in his 
theurgical practices. In one of Dee’s first recorded scrying sessions he asks the angel 
Uriel for “a meanes or order to vse in the invocating of Michael,” and is told: 

He is to be invocated by certayn of the psalmes of Dauid, and prayers. The which psalmes, 
are nothing els, but a means vnto the seat and Maiestie of God: Whereby you gather with 
your selues due powre, to apply yowr natures to the holy Angells. I mean the psalmes, 
commonly called the seven psalmes. You must vse pleasant sauours: with hand and hart: 
whereby you shall allure him and wynn him (thorowgh Gods fauour) to atteyn vnto the 
thing, you haue long sowght for. There must be Coniunction of myndes in prayer, betwyxt 
you two, to God, contynually. Yt is the Wyll of God, that you shold, ioinctly, have the 
knowledge of his Angells togither . 202 

“Invoke this name, or we can do nothing,” ( Inuocate Nomen eius, aut nihil agere 
possumus) Michael tells him later, because “The key of prayer openeth all things”. 203 

This belief in the power of prayer, and especially the psalms, was a central tenet of 
early-modern religious life. Dee’s contemporary, Anthonie Gilbie, for example, in his 
Psalmes of Dauid of 1581 told his readers, that 

this Book of Psalmes [is] most necessarie for euerie Christian [...] to meditate them in their 
hearts, and so by earnest and continual inuocation and hartie praiers to moue the Lord our 
God to mercies, as his holie servants haue by the like meanes alwaies found mercies before 


These “mercies” could cover a wide range of practical helps as well as spiritual 
consolations and directions. An anonymous contemporary translation of a work by St 
Athanasius, A Treatise [...] concerning the vse and vertue of the psalmes , which was 
routinely appended to editions of Stemhold and Hopkins’s Whole booke of Psalms , for 
example, offered a variety of tasks for which the use of Psalmic invocation was deemed 
appropriate, which included the frustrating and driving away of enemies, requests for 
the prospering of the Church, the blessing of a new dwelling, the curing of illnesses, 
and prayers against “the nobility, the counsel, the magistrates and princes not geuen to 
religion”. 205 Calvin also stressed the virtue of the psalms, which he saw as an “infallible 
rule for directing us with respect to the right manner of offering to God the sacrifice of 
praise, which he declares to be most precious in his sight, and of the sweetest odour.” 206 
However, he also insisted on certain limits to the use of these “precious” sacrifices. 
“Whoever would follow [David] aright,” he said 

must not allow himself to break forth with reckless and blind impetuosity into the language 
of imprecation; he must, moreover, repress the turbulent passions of his mind, and, instead 
of confining his thoughts exclusively to his own private interests, should rather employ his 
desires and affections in seeking to advance the glory of God . 207 

As a request for divine aid, prayer could become involved in the “private interests” 
and illegitimate desires of individuals, who might not exercise due restraint in respect of 
the mercies sought from God. Dee himself, believed his own prayers to be of 
miraculous efficacy. Dee is told by his angelic interlocutors that he has been granted 
particular “force in prayer” by God, 208 and that the mystical tables or “calls” which are 
revealed to him give him the special privilege of compelling angelic visitation (a 
privilege not granted to the prophets and apostles). 209 The “utterance” of the “holy and 



252 


S. CLUCAS 


mysticall Call” compells the angelic “Kings and Ministers” who rule the earth to 
obedience: 

[This Call] is of force, and moveth them to visible apparition [...] they are forced (by the 
couenant of God delivered by his spirit) to render obedience and faithful society. Wherein, 
they will open the mysteries of their creation [...] and give you understanding of many 
thousand secrets . 210 

While these powers might seem to fall within the sphere of Calvin’s proscriptions 
with regard to private interests, it is also clear that, given Dee’s faith in the authenticity 
of his revelations, he saw the extraordinary mercies as expressions of the divine will 
(“by the couenant of God”). Thus, in seeking miraculous powers he believed he was 
“seeking to advance the glory of God,” rather than seeking private power. Dee 
frequently insists on his unworthiness and humility, and his desire to be an instrument 
of God, rather than an autonomous agent. He makes frequent use of the formula “Let 
thy will, and not ours, be done” (Non nostra sed Dei voluntas fiat), 211 and other media¬ 
tory clauses in his prayers, requesting God, for example, “to deale with vs, so, as might 
be most for his glory, in his mercies: not according to our deserts, and frowardnes: 
&c.” 212 and one of the angels tells him: “you are become servants of God: Not for your 
own sakes; but in that it is the Glory of him, which hath called you to this exercise.” 213 
Thus while Dee’s belief in his entitlement to quasi-divine powers seem extraordinarily 
arrogant to the modem reader, they seem less audacious when viewed in the light of the 
contemporary doctrines of grace and providentialism. There is no question that Dee saw 
his access to “magical” powers as firmly circumscribed by divine will. Thus while he is 
told by the angels that “All wants shall be opened vnto you,” 214 he is also warned to 
“abuse not this Excellency.” 215 He is permitted, for example, to make “vse” of the 
angels governing the seas and the earth, but he must only “vse them to the glory [of 
God].” 216 Thus whatever Dee believed was done for the glory of God was divinely 
willed and warranted, and he asks only for “the performing of som[m]e artes such as 
myght sett forth his glory.” 217 

There is no doubt that Dee’s faith in the conversations and their continued success 
was underpinned by a fervent regime of private devotion. When Dee asked the angel 
Ave about the “form of our Petition or Invitation to good Angels”, he was told that 
correct invocation arises from “the good will of man, and of heat and fervency of the 
spirit,” 218 and his conversations are characterised by a performative “heat and fervency” 
and intense precatory zeal. 

Whilst engaged in angelic invocations at his house in Mortlake, the chamber of 
practice (which rather quaintly appears to have been a converted spare bedroom) 219 was 
set out as a ceremonial space dedicated to private worship, furnished with candles and 
other “holy furniture”, and equipped with a desk at which he recorded the com¬ 
munications. It appears to have been contiguous with the space which Dee used for his 
private prayers, as he often mentions going to, or coming from his “oratorie”. 220 On his 
European travels he appears to have replicated this ceremonial space in his various 
lodgings - in Cracow, for instance, he describes his room as containing a “Table with a 
white Cloth, a Candlestick, and Taper on it, with a Desk and Cushions (which I had 
caused to be made with red crosses on them).” 221 In this conventional oratorical space, 
much of the daily practice of the conversations consisted in conventional forms of 



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253 


worship, the “diuerse [...] eiaculations and pangs of prayer and thanks vnto God,” 222 
which were the staple of sixteenth-century Christian worship. 

On Holy Thursday 1583, for example, Dee goes to his “oratorie” to pray for 
“comfort and [a] token of free forgiuenes,” he vents his “vows” in “harty sorrowfull 
paines” and “prayed the 22 Psalm in the conclusion of the pang”. 223 On another 
occasion he records: “EK prayed the 145 and 146 Psalm kneeling reverently; and I 
likewise in heart consenting thereto, attentively listening.” 224 He and Kelley would 
frequently pray together on their knees, and he talks of them reciting psalms mora 
interposita, 225 (that is with Dee and Kelley reciting alternate lines), 226 or silently 
following Kelley’s recitation of a psalm in his mind (“I joyning my mind to his 
pronunciation thereof.”) 227 

The operative dimensions of conventional prayers in Dee’s angelic conversations 
are clearly visible in the close links between prayer and the appearance of visions in the 
shew-stone. Dee and Kelley are told by the spirit Madimi that they must: “Always pray 
that you may hear truely and receive faithfully,” 22 * and these prayers are frequently in a 
conventional form. Thus after a brief recitation of Psalm 33, Dee notes the sudden 
appearance of Gabriel and Nalvage in the “crystal”. 229 On another occasion, Dee notes: 
“we prayed severally; and at length [...] I prayed in the hearing of EK, (by my desk, on 
my knees) in great agony of mynde, and Behold there appeared one standing vppon, or 
rather somwhat behynde the Heptagonall clowde.” 230 Prayer often helps him to 
overcome difficulties in the progress of the visions; thus a hiatus in one of the actions is 
ended by the deployment of a psalm: “/ prayed Roffensis Psalm 9 and the Lords 
Prayer , and the stone became clear,” 231 while the angel Nalvage is helped to overcome 
an inability to reveal one of the letters of a Table by the recitation of the Lords Prayer. 232 

A great deal of the angelic conversations relies on the ritual performativity of these 
conventional forms of Christian devotional piety. Thus when Dee and Kelley are 
shunned by the angel Ave, and are reproached by a cherubic spirit (“a face, very great, 
with wings about, adjoyned to it”) for their lack of faith and belief, Dee falls to intense 
prayer, “Cum maximis lachrymis haec a me & valde serio ad Rem dicta erant,” entering 
into desperate dialogue with the angelic interlocutor: 

A: O Lord, shall we continue in this wavering or stiff-necked willful blindnesse, and 
frowardly keep out thy mercies and graces by our fleshly sense, and unreasonable 
perswasion against the verity of thy true Ministers? 

1. All things are committed to thy charge. 

A: O Lord as much as ever I can do by prayer, or otherwise, I do, and yet I enjoy no fruit of 
my long travel. 

2. Thou hast ground, sow if thou can. 

A: How can I without further instructions and help? and now when I require Ave to come, 
he cometh not: O Lord comfort me. 


3. A V E shall come when thou hast need of him. 



254 


S. CLUCAS 


A: In te Domine speravi, & spero, & sperabo. In die Tribulationis exaudies me. Refugium 
meum, spes mea, vita & beatitudo mea Jesu Christe, tibi cum Patre & Spiritu Sancto sit 
omnis honor, laus, Gloria & Gratiarum actio. Amen. 233 

This spiritual drama, in which Dee acts out his penitential remorse at their “willful 
blindnesse” and “fleshly sense”, and begs for comfort, and gives traditional precatory 
expression to his trust and hope in God’s help and guidance, is closely modelled on the 
traditional forms of private devotion. 

The mixture of “action-specific” (or “magical”) prayer and conventional prayer 
forms, and the extemporary and improvisational openness of private worship (“I 
rehersed part of my intent, vttred to god by prayer and half turned my speche to god 
him self, as the cause did seme to require”) 234 makes Dee’s angelic conversations into a 
series of complex ceremonies, or “precatory events”. Take for example, the prayers 
recorded before the conversation held on the morning of Tuesday 31 July 1584: “The 
Lords prayer finished, and various ejaculations made both to Gabriel, and to Nalvage, 
Ave, Mapsma and Ilemer, and above all to God himself for his light, help and 
protection, both in the present action, as well as for our present and future journey to the 
court of Caesar [i.e. Rudolph II].” 235 This mixture of conventional prayer and a variety 
of action-specific prayers (“invitations” to particular angels, and prayers to God for 
knowledge, help and protection) is a typical assemblage, which on other occasions may 
be supplemented by liturgical prayers, the seven penitential psalms, 236 short 
extemporary prayers (pretiunculas or oratiunculas) for the remission of sins or for 
God’s grace, or protection from Satan’s deceptions, 237 prayers of humility and 
obedience, 238 prayers of thanksgiving and for strengthening faith, 239 or prayers asking for 
help with specific questions or actions. 240 

These highly variegated and idiomatic prayer structures, in combination with the 
scrying stone, and the “holy table”, and the various “tables”, “seals” and “characters” 
which make up the instruments of the heptarchical art, give the conversations their 
peculiar character. Dee himself was aware that his method of using prayer was dis¬ 
tinctive. The angel Raphael refers to Dee’s “Philosophicall Harmonie in prayer,” which 
Dee identifies as “the prayer which I dayly vse, & often”. 241 Dee himself talks about his 
form of prayer as a distinct method: “Copious prayers to God, according to our 
method.” (Precibus ad deum fusis, ex more nostro.) 242 But this distinct method, these 
quasi-ceremonial precatory events - like the Pseudo-Solomonic arts of the middle ages 
- seem to have developed out of (and in parallel with) pre-existent forms of private 
worship, and the heightened sense of “magical” (or theurgic) agency seems to have 
been a natural extension of traditional beliefs regarding the power of prayer and the 
“mercies” extended by God to the faithful. 

John Fisher, for example, in his treatise on prayer, De necessitate orandi , argued 
that the granting of requests ( impetratio ) was one of the three chief fruits of prayer. 243 
The instrumental nature of prayer rests, however, on a foundation of deep humility, and 
the “unworthy soul,” ( animus indignum) acknowledges that the gifts it receives by 
means of prayer are effected through the grace of God, and not through any power on 
the part of the devotant. 244 The good effects which might result from such prayers, are 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


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the result of God using us as his instrument, not the result of our own virtue or desire. 
“Whenever we do something right,” Fisher says, “we are in the hand of God, like a 
hammer in the hand of a workman [...]. God uses us as an instrument to do good works. 
Whenever we seem to be acting virtuously it is not us, but God in us, who is acting.” 245 
While God will not grant requests which might be harmful to us, if prayer is undertaken 
in the right spirit, virtually anything will be granted by God to the faithful: 

Anybody’s prayer, provided that it is based on humility, and is uttered freely before God, 
and provided that nothing which is asked for is repugnant to his own well being, and 
provided that he proceeds in the name of the Lord, without any doubts, then that which he 
asks for will be granted. 246 

Provided that one possessed the requisite sense of piety, and was prepared to submit 
oneself to being an instrument of the divine will (or to consider one’s own will to be 
such an instrument) the scope of this kind of prayer was virtually unlimited, and it is 
here that the boundaries between prayer and incantation, religion and magic become 
fluid and ill-defined. Dee’s contemporary and putative co-author of the Rosicrucian 
Fama Fraternitatis , Julius Sperber, for example, in his Kabalisticae Precationes , pub¬ 
lished in 1600, produced a series of psalmic prayers which, like Dee’s, were petitions 
for divine wisdom. 247 Such prayers for illumination were an accepted part of con¬ 
ventional Protestant worship in the late sixteenth century, 248 but the limits of such 
requests were not subject to doctrinal proscription, and Sperber’s interpretation of the 
New Testament promises, suggests that he views prayer as a kind of Christian magic. 249 
The Cabala, he says, is “the chiefest of the sciences and their summit,” a primacy which 
it enjoys because it is based on the sacred revelation of the divine names which can be 
found in the Old and New Testaments. 250 The wise man, Sperber says, can expect to 
receive spiritual and corporeal benefits from God when he prays. Through God’s gift, 
he will be able to 

truly understand God and the inner man (that is, the soul of Man); to foresee the future: to 
understand the Mysteries hidden in sacred scripture: to uncover secrets, to acquire the glory 
of the true name and perpetual memory: to cure the sick: to perform miracles: to receive 
Visions and Revelations [...] and rise up beyond the limits of the mind, and be elevated to 
heaven, uniting and joining with GOD himself, and be illuminated by the Holy Spirit. 251 

While a limited concept of operative prayer had been widely accepted throughout 
the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, 252 the potential for exceeding these narrow 
limits had always been present in the existing belief system, and here we can see how 
belief in the granting of requests could result in a quasi-magical, quasi-prophetic sense 
of exalted agency. 

4. “ONE GOD, ONE KNOWLEDGE, ONE OPERATION”: 

SECRET MEANS AND APOCALYPTIC ENDS 

This brings me to my final observations on Dee’s heptarchical art, and the extent to 
which it departs from its Pseudo-Solomonic models and becomes an intellectual and 
practical formation which is sui generis. These differences are of a technical and a 
teleological nature. The technical differences are minor, but not insignificant. As a 
practitioner, Dee saw himself as both a philosophus and a mathematicus , and the 
exalted vision of the mathematician who could “ascend and mount vp (with speculatiue 



256 


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Winges) in spirit, to behold [...] the Glas of Creation”, 253 was never far from his mind 
during his dealings with the angelic spirits. While there is a shared mathematical basis 
underpinning both Dee’s angelic conversations and Pseudo-Solomonic theurgy - a 
rudimentary numerological mysticism - Dee brings a greater degree of mathematical 
sophistication and facility to his proceedings than one finds in his mediaeval sources. In 
this he is a beneficiary of the neoplatonic scholarship of the Renaissance, with its com¬ 
plex syntheses of Greek, Hebrew, Christian and Arabic doctrines on the cosmological 
significance of number. The second, and more significant difference, is the millennial 
or apocalyptic teleology of Dee’s art. Whereas the ars notoria and other Pseudo- 
Solomonic arts were intended for the amelioration of daily life, and were therefore 
chronic quotidian practices, Dee’s art was devoted toward a single action, an action of 
staggering eschatological significance: “we procede to one God, one knowledge, one 
Operation”. 254 This one operation was to be the Last Judgement, with Dee and Kelley as 
earthly agents of the divine will, executed through the mystical instruments revealed to 
them. While the Pseudo-Solomonic arts promised powers to perform wonders, for Dee 
these particular actions were a peripheral aspect of a single action, an action which was 
in itself the horizon of all human actions, the end point towards which the whole 
providential design of the creation had been tending since the resurrection. In May 
1583, the angel Uriel tells Dee that the “frute” of his “boke” (i.e. the Liber 
Mysteriorum) would be the restoration of “the holy bokes, which haue perished euen 
from the begyning.” The doctrine revealed in this ur-scripture, was to “towche the 
skyes, and call the sterrs to testimonie thereof’, and Dee is told that in the course of 
practising his art his “fotesteps shall viset (allmost) [all] the partes of the whole world.” 
The “Vse” of the “Table of practise”, however, was to be “onely for one Month”. The 
revelation was not just a communication, but an instrument, designed to bring about the 
perfection of religion, but also the perfection of human arts: 

herein shalbe deciphred perfect truth from imperfect falshode, True religion from fals and 
damnable errors, with all Artes; which are propre to the Vse of man, the first and sanctified 
perfection: Which when it hath spred a while THEN COMMETH THE ENDE. 255 

The miraculous arts promised by Pseudo-Solomonic theurgy, fantastic and pre¬ 
sumptuous as they often are, are actions intended to have effects within historical time. 
Dee, on the other hand, saw his “action” or “practise” as the culmination of all actions, 
a last act which would inaugurate the end of history and historical time. The boundaries 
between prophecy and “magic” collapse in Dee’s heptarchical art - the “sanctified 
perfection” of all the practical arts are not seen as acts of personal aggrandisement or 
empowerment, but as a necessary prelude to the apocalyptic catastrophe. The “holy 
boke” or “boke of secrets” was to be “the key of this World”, which has been “browght 
to the wyndow” of Kelley’s senses and the “dores” of his imagination, “to the end that 
he may, see and performe the tyme of God his Abridgement”. A “great miserie” is 
imminent, Uriel tells them, they must “nedes attend vppon the Will of God: Things 
must then be put in practise. A thing that knitteth vp all”, which “conteyn[s] many 
Celestiall Vertues”. 256 The practice of the heptarchical art would thus subsume all other 
human actions within itself, it would “knitteth vp all.” In comparison with Dee and 
Kelley, the angel Ave tells them, the theurgists of the past, who practised the “old 
fashion of Magick”, were “only playing”. 257 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


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The contrast between Dee’s heptarchical art and the magical arts that preceded it 
(and those which were contemporary with it) is perhaps, from a modem standpoint, 
illusory. The parallels between Christian magic, or theurgy, and Biblical prophecy are 
constitutive of these arts, their legitimacy for contemporary practitioners was bound up 
in the idea of angelic transmission. As “revelations” from spiritual beings, the arts are, 
ex definitio , prophetic. What sets apart Dee’s art from his predecessors, perhaps, is his 
willingness to believe that God was willing him to be an instrumentum instrumentorum. 
But in the light of contemporary beliefs about the imminence of the apocalypse in the 
1570s and 80s (and the primacy accorded to faith and revelation in religious 
experience) even this should be comprehensible, if not credible. Dee was certainly not 
alone among his contemporaries, either in his belief in the properties of the 
“shewstone”, or in taking Pseudo-Solomonic theurgy as a model for his magical 
practices. Christopher Whitby has carefully documented reports of English “scryers” in 
the 1540s-60s, 258 and we know that at least one contemporary, Simon Forman, had been 
practicing a “New method [...] of magic” which, according to Gabriel Harvey, was 
“inspired by the ars notoricT , and (like Dee’s conversations) apparently made use of an 
“all-seeing mirror”. 259 Although some of Dee’s contemporaries were sceptical about 
angelic communications, 260 such views were not predominant, and many others dis¬ 
approved of his practices precisely because they believed in his spiritual com¬ 
munications. Other English and European scholars are known to have worked within 
the same tradition as Dee. Heinrich Khunrath, for example, in the text accompanying 
his sequence of theosophical-alchemical engravings, the Amphitheatrum Sapientice 
AEternce , describes an art or doctrine which he calls “Hyperphysical magic” ( Hyper- 
physicomageia), which is “pious and useful conversation with good Angels, God’s fiery 
ministers, mediately or immediately, while we are either waking or sleeping, in 
accordance with the task delegated to them by God.” 261 He also defines “Theosophy” 
(Theosophia ) as “a threefold Theology (that is, Biblical, Macro- and Microcosmic)” 
and includes the “spiritual conversations” of Hebrew prophets and cabalists amongst 
the highest accomplishments of “Magic” ( Mageia ). 262 

For devout Christian practitioners like Dee and Khunrath, then, the boundaries 
which modem commentators draw between practices which are “magic” and those 
which are “religious” or “devotional” seem to have been less clearly distinguishable. 
The widespread belief in God’s willingness to grant requests to the faithful ( impetratio) 
while it was often the subject of debate and controversy, 263 had no settled limits or 
boundaries, and as such offered a mediated form of instmmental agency which could 
easily be reconciled with orthodox Christian faith. As we have seen, Dee saw the 
heptarchical art as a form of religious “exercise”, a “holy action”, during which 
“mysteries” and divine secrets are revealed. To this extent his art is an ars prophetica, 
and even (given the momentous nature of the supposed prophetic knowledge) an ars 
apocalyptica. In this he was not far removed from some of his religious con¬ 
temporaries. The puritan Roger Edwardes, who sought (and gained) Dee’s support 
against the Bishops on the matter of apocalyptic prophecy laid claim to a comparable 
apocalyptic authority in his scriptural interpretations, and was sympathetic to Dee’s 
claims to be dealing with angelic spirits. 264 But Dee’s art was also an ars operativa or 
instrumentiva and his “desired thirst” for “perfect knowledge” was not restricted to 
purely divine or eschatological illuminations. Dee’s requests included requests for 



258 


S. CLUCAS 


alchemical, medicinal, and natural philosophical knowledge, and help with locating a 
hoard of buried treasure. While these actions do not seem to fit our perceptions of what 
a “religious” practice, might be, we should bear in mind both the eschatological horizon 
within which Dee located his practices, and the latitude of his conception of “Christian 
allowable means”. Provided that Dee saw no contradiction between his practices and 
“the profession of a true Christian,” and provided that he construed his actions as 
dedicated to the glory of God, a wide array of practical and operative activities were 
available to him in his capacity as a “Modest Christian Philosopher”. 265 Like the 
theurgic practitioners before him, what Dee ultimately sought was a sanctioned form 
of operative agency, access to arts whose “sanctified perfection” was assured. The 
“key” of prayer and the “ineffable sacrament” of angelic conversation seemed to him, 
in the final analysis, the highest and most legitimate form of pursuing both theoretical 
knowledge and operative practice. Dee spent most of his long scholarly career 
pursuing “wonderfull divine and secret Sciences” 266 and his sense of calling and 
vocation, is perhaps the most important framework within which he organised and 
pursued a wide range of practical and theoretical activities. In the broadest religious 
sense, vocation or calling signified the dedication of all actions to the glory of God or 
a sacramentalization of human action. 267 The doctrine of vocation demanded that “all 
the religion we haue, all the grace and goodnesse of our hearts, must shew it selfe in 
the workes of our particular callings,” 268 and this belief shaped and formed early 
modem individuals’ lives in ways which are not comprehensible in terms of the 
modem, secular conception of “career”. The unique intellectual and cultural 
formations of early modernity, in which apparently diverse practices are drawn 
together under the aegis of a unique vocation, are problematic for modem disciplinary 
historians, for whom the classification (or lawful fragmentation) of theoretico- 
practical domains of knowledge is a given. 269 In order to understand Dee’s angelic 
visions and their purpose it is, perhaps, less useful to ask whether they are occult 
science, or magic, or religion, than it is to ask, what an “exercise”, a “conversation” or 
an “action” is - to locate them, that is to say, within the conceptual vocabulary which 
presided over their emergence. 

If nothing else this reappraisal of the character of Dee’s “mysticall exercises” has, I 
hope, shown that there is a real need to rethink the conceptual foundations and 
contemporary categorization of the bewildering array of early-modern practices which 
have been designated by the term “Renaissance magic” or “occult science”. I also hope 
that it has signalled a need to extend the study of early-modern “magical” or “occult” 
practices back into the middle ages. The accounts of Dee’s angelic conversations we 
find in Yates, Calder and French suggest that they were largely the product of a 
“Hermetic-Neoplatonic” worldview, whose primary components were derived from the 
printed philosophical works of Pico, Ficino, Trithemius, Reuchlin and Agrippa. There 
are a number of references in Dee’s angelic conversations which show that he made use 
of the printed works of Agrippa, Reuchlin, Trithemius and others, but it is a large 
argumentative liberty to move from the statement “Dee speaks of the book of Agrippa 
as lying open on [his ...] table” to concluding “Agrippa was Dee’s main guide in such 
operations”, 270 or that his angelic magic is reliant on “Agrippa on the three worlds”, 271 or 
that his “outlook” was predominantly “Renaissance Neoplatonism as interpreted in Pico 
della Mirandola”. 272 As an explanatory model for Renaissance magic neoplatonism has 
long been dominant, and to a certain extent this is justified, but we must also assess the 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


259 


influence of the widespread manuscript transmission of earlier magical and religious 
traditions, particularly in Northern Europe where Italian neoplatonism arrived relatively 
late, and was often read synthetically together with mediaeval works which already 
enjoyed prestige and esteem amongst interested scholars. The ascetic, talismanic, 
cabalistic and incantatory aspects of the works of Northern scholars such as Agrippa, 
Reuchlin and Trithemius may also be re-illuminated by placing them in the context of 
mediaeval theurgical manuscript traditions, rather than viewing them simply as 
conduits for the print tradition of Ficino and Pico. Dee’s own practices, as I hope I have 
shown, are far more indebted to the former than the latter, and my preliminary analysis 
would suggest that we must look much more closely at the character of mediaeval 
theurgy and its relation to orthodox forms of religious practice, in order to come to a 
closer understanding of the nature of Dee’s “actions”. 


APPENDIX 1 

John Dee’s Oration “Pro Sapientia” 

(British Library, Sloane MS 3188, fol. 5 1 ) 

Praeter alias meas extemporaneas preces, et eiaculationes ad Deum vehementiores: Haec vna, 
maxime vsitata fuit. 

Or[ati]o mea Matutina, Vespertinaque: pro Sapientia. 

In nomine Dei Patris, Dei Filij, Dei Spiritus Sancti 
Amen 

Omnipotens, Sempiteme, Vere, et Viue Deus, in adiutorium meum intende: Domine Domi- 
nantium, Rex Regum, Iehouah Zebaoth, ad adiuuandum me festina: 

Gloria Deo, Patri, Filio, Spiret spiritui Sancto: Sicut erat in principio, etnunc, et semp[er]: et in 
saecula saeculoru[m]: Amen 

Recte sapere, et intelligere doceto me, (6 rerum o[mni]um Creator,) Nam Sapientia tua, totum est, 
quod volo: Da verbum tuum in ore meo, 6 rerum o[mni]um Creator,) et sapientia[m] tua[m] in 
corde meo fige. 

O Domine Iesu Christe (qui sapientia vera es, aetemi et Omnipotentis tui Patris) humilime tuam 
oro Diuinam Maiestatem, expeditum mihi vt mittere digneris, alicuius pij, sapientis expertique 
Philosophi auxilium, ad ilia plenissime intelligenda perficiendaque, quae maximi Valoris erunt ad 
tuam laudem et gloriam amplificandam: Et si Mortalis nullus iam in terris viuat, qui ad hoc munus 
aptus sit: vel qui ex aetema tua providentia, ad istud mihi praestandu[m] beneficium assignatus 
fuerit: Tunc equidem humilime, ardentissime et constantissime a tua Diuina Maiestate require, Vt 
ad me de caelis mittere digneris bonos tuos Spirituales Ministros, Angelosque, Videlicet 
Michaelem, Gabrielem, Raphaelem, ac Vrielem: et (ex Diuino tuo fauore) quoscunque alios, 
fidelesque tuos Angelos, qui me plene et perfecte informent et instruant, in cognitione, intelli- 
gentiaque vera et exacta, Arcanorum et Magnalium tuoru[m] (Creaturas omnes tuas, illarumque 
naturas, proprietates, et optimos vsus, concementium) et nobis Mortalibus. Scitu necessariorum; ad 
tui no [min] is laudem, honorem, et gloriam; et ad solidam meam, aliorumque, (per me) plurimorum 
tuorum fidelium consolationem: et ad Tnim icorum tuorum confusionem, et subversionem. Amen. 
Fiat Ieouah Zebaoth: Fiat Adonay, fiat Elohim. O beata, et superbenedicta Omnipotens Trinitas, 
Concedas mihi (Ioanni Dee) petitione petitionem hanc, modo tali, qui tibi maxime placebit. 



260 


S. CLUCAS 


[ Flourish ] 


Amen 


Ab anno 1579. hoc fere modo: Latine, vel Anglice; (est circa annu[m] 1569 alio et peculiari, 
particulari modo: interdum pro Raphaele, interdum pro Michaele) ad Deum preces fiindere: mihi 
gratissimum fuit: et est Mirabilem in me faciat Deus Misericordia[m] sua[m]. Amen. [Flourish ] 


APPENDIX 2. 

John Fisher, P,salmi seu Precationes D. Io. Episcopi Roffensis 
(Cologne: Heronem Alopecium, c.1525), Psalmus V, pp.95-109. 


Psalmus V. Pro Impetranda sapientis diuina. 

Domine, Deus misericordiae, qui omnia uerbo tuo fecisti, & sapientia 
tua constituisti hominem. 

Deus aeteme, & absconditorum cognitor, qui omnia nou- [p. 96] eris, priusquam fiunt. 

Aperi labia mea & os meum ut nunciem laudes nominis tui. 

Cor nouum, & spiritum rectum intra me pone, omneque desiderium prauum procul a me 
repelle. 

Stultus sum ego domine & rerum ignarus, & scientia tua non est mecum. 

Nescio ego nee intelligo, quoniam hebetudo tanta, ut non uidiant oculi mei, & cor meum non 
cognoscat. 

Et iam puer sum & paruu- [p. 97] lus, ignorans ingressum & exitum meum. 

Vir pollutis labijs ego, exiguique temporis, & minor ad intellectum legis tuae. 

Da obsecro cor docile seruo tuo, ut sciam quid acceptum sit coram te omni tempore. 

Mitte de coelo spiritum sapientiae tuae, & sensu illius cor meum imple. 

Sapientia tua dat ueram scientiam, & ex ore tuo consilium & intelligentia. 

Sapientia tua os mutorum [p. 98] aperit, & linguas infantium eloquentes reddit. 

Si quis uidetur perfectus inter filios mortalium, si tamen effugerit ab illo sapientia tua, 
in nihilum computabitur. 

Hominibus thesaurus indeficiens est sapientia tua, quae qui usi sunt, participes facti sunt amicitiae 
dei. 

Quam bene se habet homo ille qui ingeniosus est, & qui animam sortitus est sapientia preditam. 
I P-991 

Quisnam inter homines consilium tuum noscit, aut quis poterit cogitare quid uelis tu? 

Sensum tuum quis intelligat nisi tu dederis sapientiam illi, & instruas eum per spiritum tuum 
sanctum? 

Nam rationes hominum in multis deficiunt, & parum securae adinuentiones eorum. 

Corruptibile enim corpus animum grauat & terrenum domicilium retardat mentem multa 
cogitantem. 

Supeme, consilium & succes- [p. 100] sus, & illic prudentia ac etiam uirtus. 

Tecum sunt diuitiae & gloria, opes incorruptibiles & iustitia. 

Qui te inuenerit, inuenit uitam, & te qui non amat, diligit mortem. 

Domine Deus tange os meum, ut recedat iniquitas mea, inhabita cor meum ut peccata mea 
purgentur. 

In maliuolam animam sapientia non intrat, nee manebit in corpore quod peccatis subditur. 

Doce me domine Deus, ne [p. 101] augescat ignorantia mea, & delicta mea multiplicentur. 

Spiritus me doceat quae tibi placita sunt, & ducat in uiam rectam, nam in erroris uia diutius erraui. 
Firmetur sapientia in animo meo, & legem tuam in corde meo scribe. 

Super omnia quae speciosa sunt, & pulchra, sapientiam desidero in comparatione illius diuitias non 
aestimo. 

Quam amo sapientiam tuam domine, quae unica medi- [p. 102] tatio mea est. 

Quam dulcia cordi meo eloquia tua? multo magis quam mel ori meo. 

Verbum tuum pedibus meis lucema est, & uijs meis lumen. 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


261 


Magis mihi placet sapientia tua, quam milia auri uel argenti. 

In uia sapientiae tuae delector magis quam ingenti diuitiarum copia. 

Vtinam dirigantur uiae meae, ut sapientiam tuam, & sermones tuos discam. 

Eloquium tuum ignitum est, hinc [p. 103] fit ut uehementer illud cupiam. 

O beatum ilium quern tu instruis domine, & in lege tua doctum facis. 

Anima eius sapientiam meditabitur, & lingua eius loquetur iudicium. 

Lex dei in corde suo scribetur, & non supplantabuntur gressus eius. 

O domine Deus salutis meae, exaudi precem meam: & lingua mea misericordias tuas semper 
loquetur. 

Da sedium tuarum adsistri- [p. 104] cem sapientiam, ut bonum & malum discemere possim, & 
occulta tua cognoscam. 

Reuela oculos meos, ut ad miranda perspiciam quae in tua lege sunt. 

Memor esto verbi tui te inuocanti, nam in illo spem meam posui. 

Viam sapientiae notam fac mihi, & scientiam tuam ne cceles a me. 

Fac mecum iuxta misericordiam tuam, & ne confundas me ab expectation mea. 

Recte sapere & intelligere [p. 105] doceto me, nam sapientia tua totum quod uolo. 

Da uerbum tuum in ore meo, & in corde meo sapientiam tuam fige. 

Sapientia tua cogitationes meas regat, ut placeant coram oculis tuis semper. 

Mirabilia sunt eloquia tua, quapropter delectatur in eis anima mea. 

Sapientia tua perfecta est, scientia tua lucida, & oculos illuminans. 

Amabiliora super aurum [p. 106] & gemmas, & dulciora quam mel de fauo. 

Sapientia tua immaculata, animas confortans, eloquium tuum uerax, intellectum docens paruulos. 
Quando sciet errans spiritu intelligentiam? & ignorans doctrinam discet? 

Quando effundetur de excelso spiritus tuus quando cor insipientis scientiam callebit, quando lingua 
balbutiens deserta erit? 

Paruulus & insipiens sum domine, auxilio sit mihi ma- [p. 107] nus tua fortis. 

Noui quod omnia potes, & nihil est tibi difficile. 

Tu magnus es incognoscibilis, & sapientiae tuae nullus est numerus. 

Annunciaui coram te causam meam, fac cum seruo tuo iuxta magnam misericordiam tuam. 

Respice ad me & miserere mei, ut hoc quod credens per te posse fieri cogito, perficiam. 

Viam sapientiae tuae notam fac mihi, & intellectu illius cor meum imple. [p. 108] 

Vocem meam audi secundum misericordiam tuam domine, secundum iudicium mecum agito. 

Da gloriam no mini tuo domine, tu enim solus es bonus & sapiens, & non est alius praeter te 
saluator. 

Exaudi me domine, propter nomen tuum, & ne contineas me misericordiam tuam. 

Eructabunt labia mea laudem, cum docueris me sapientiam tuam. 

Turn enarrabo mirabilia tua, ut alij etiam ad te conuertantur. [p. 109] 

Et benedicant nomen tuum in sempitemum & in seculum seculi, Amen. 


NOTES 

1 Libri Septimi Apertorii Cracoviensis Mystici, Sabbatici, Pars Quarta in T&FR, 184. 

2 On this tradition see Lynn Thorndike, “Solomon and the Ars Notoria”, in A History of Magic and 
Experimental Science during the first thirteen centuries of our era, 8 vols (London and New York: 
Macmillan & Co., 1923-58), II, 279-289. See also Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cam¬ 
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, repr. 1993), 151-172. 

3 See for example John Eglington Bailey, Diary, for the years 1595-1601, of Dr John Dee, Warden of 
Manchester from 1595 to 1608. Editedfrom the original MSS in the Bodleian Library (n.p., 1880), 2: “[Dee 
had] long forsaken the exact sciences, having exhausted their study; and had devoted himself to the 
blighting influence of occult investigations, intermingling with them in credulous simplicity what remained 
in him of the Christian faith.” 

4 See Carl Kiesewetter, John Dee, ein Spiritist des 16 Jahrhunderts. Kulturgeschichtliche Studien (Leipzig, 
1893, repr. Schwarzenburg: Ansata Verlag, 1977). 

5 A thesis which was popularised by Edwin Arthur Burtt’s influential study, The Metaphysical Foundations 
of Modern Physical Science (London: Kegan Paul & Co., 1925). 



262 


S. CLUCAS 


6 JDEP, I, 744: “The mysteries of the spiritual regions which Dee attempted to penetrate by establishing 
direct contact, were not infrequently regarded in his age, in which the claim of religion to contain the most 
perfect and complete expression of the general scheme, structure, and purpose of the cosmos, was neither 
denied or lightly regarded, as forming a legitimate branch of Natural Philosophy.” 

7 JDEP, I, 808. 

8 Luigi Firpo, “John Dee, Scienziato, Negromante e Avventuriero,” Rinascimento, 3 (1952): 25-84. 

9 Firpo, 25: “un documento singolarmente rivelatore delle credenze, delle aspirazioni e della cultura del 
Cinquecento.” 

10 Firpo, 29: “Nel Dee questo awio e sostenuto da un altissimo concetto del proprio ingegno e da un pro- 
fundo spirito religioso [e ...] la certezza di uno speciale favore di Dio.” 

11 Firpo, 29: “non ha la consapevolezza dell’infinita umilita e pazienza cui dovranno ormai piegarsi i 
ricercatori sperimentali per conseguire a prezzo di penose fatiche piccole verita parziali e prowisorie: quella 
ch’egli affanosamente ricerca e una via rapida, breve, infallibile, per assurgere ad una conoscenza totale, che 
coincida con un illimitato potere dell’uomo sulla natura. Questo peccato di superbia impaziente risolve la 
filosofia della natura nell’occultismo[...].” 

12 Firpo, 48: “un prolisso discorso [...] una verbosa e vacua orazione a Dio e [...] un minuzioso rituale.” 

13 Firpo, 41: “[i] suoi truffaldini ‘misteri’.” 

14 Firpo, 45: “[gli] atteggiamenti ispirati e istrioneschi del Dee.” 

15 Firpo, 40-41: “Le presunte revelazioni del futuro risultano tutte grossolanamente false, vistosi gli errori 
geografici e di scienze naturali, sgrammaticato il latino qua e la usato con parsimonia, che gli angeli 
preferiscono parlar l’inglese [...]. Lo stile angelico e una triviale parodia di quello biblico, con frequenti e 
owie intrusioni di locuzioni scritturali in talune sedute [...] gli spiriti invisibili parlano un linguaggio affato 
privo di senso, proclamando che si tratta della lingua usata da Adamo prima del peccato originate. In con¬ 
clusion, la cultura che nelle pseudo-rivelazioni si riflette e bene la cultura raffazzonata, monca e approssi- 
mativa di Kelley, e sono sempre gli interessi suoi piu urgenti e concreti, turpi talvolta, che gli angeli si affa- 
nnano a tutelare.” 

16 Firpo, 83: “v’e sopratutto in questa personality [...] una frattura profonda che sgomenta: l’uomo che aveva 
dato prove tanto degne in molteplici campi di studio, il matematico, il geografo, l’astronomo, si eclissa 
subitamente e si annienta in una cieca infatuazione superstiziosa.” 

17 Frances A. Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 
1979, repr. 1983), 82. 

18 Frances A. Yates, Theatre of the World (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), 186. 

19 Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 
1964), see especially 130-143. 

20 Peter J. French, John Dee, The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 
1972), 116, 118. 

21 French, John Dee, 119. Cf. also 2-3: “Hermeticism, the gnostic philosophy based on the rediscovered 
texts of the legendary Hermes Trismegistus is basic to Dee’s thought.” 

22 Christopher Whitby, “John Dee’s Actions with Spirits 1581 to 1585” (Unpublished PhD thesis, University 
of Birmingham, 1981). A two volume facsimile of Whitby’s thesis was published by the Garland Press, 
New York in 1988). The thesis includes a full transcription of the Liber Mysteriorum (see Whitby, II, 1- 
407). 

23 Whitby, “John Dee’s Actions with Spirits” ,1, 181. 

24 Whitby, “John Dee’s Actions with Spirits”, I, 71. 

25 Whitby, “John Dee’s Actions with Spirits”, I, 75. But see also his later contradictory statement: “the 
magical system [...] bears a great similarity with the kind of magic described in the third book of Agrippa’s 
De occultaphilosophiaP (Whitby, “John Dee’s Actions with Spirits”, I, 116). 

26 Whitby, “John Dee’s Actions with Spirits”, I, 74-75. 

27 Whitby, “John Dee’s Actions with Spirits”, I, 79-93. 

28 Whitby, “John Dee’s Actions with Spirits”, I, 74. 

29 Christopher Whitby, “John Dee and Renaissance Scrying”, Bulletin of the Society for Renaissance 
Studies, 3:2 (1985): 25-37 (26). 

30 Whitby, “John Dee’s Actions with Spirits”, I, 116. 

31 He does, however, note that the design of Dee’s “Holy Table” may have been “derived from a manuscript 
copy of the Key of Solomon,” I, 151. While he notes the circulation of Pseudo-Solomonic manuscripts 
during the sixteenth century (I, 78 and fn. 27, 95) he does not pursue the possibility that they may have been 
a model for Dee’s ceremonial practices. 




ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


263 


32 Wayne Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa (Binghamton: Mediaeval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 
1982), 15-52. Cf. ibid., 15: “Essentially Dee’s life was that of the Neoplatonist sage portrayed by Calder, 
and by intention at least, of the magus saluted by French.” 

33 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 20-21. 

34 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 24. 

35 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 40. 

36 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 22, 48. 

37 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 27. 

38 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 33. 

39 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 29, 38. 

40 Wayne Shumaker, Natural Magic and Modern Science: Four Treatises 1590-1657 (Binghamton: 
Mediaeval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1989), 3-4. 

41 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 44, 46. 

42 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 44, 49. 

43 Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa, 46, 48. 

44 NP, 204. (My emphasis) 

45 NP, 203. 

46 NP, 214: “It is a magic that is far removed from both the philosophical magic and occult philosophy of the 
Renaissance and the natural magic he seems to have derived from Roger Bacon.” 

47 NP, 206. 

48 NP, 214. This is a simplification of some of the nuances of Clulee’s argument. Later he submits that there 
are magical elements or tendencies in Dee’s practices (212), but suggests that these can be traced to the 
influence of Kelley, who - Clulee claims - was more knowledgable than Dee in “mediaeval manuals of ritual 
magic” (211). His claim that Dee ends up practising a kind of magic by default to Kelley’s influence (214), is, 
I think, untenable. 

49 NP, 206. 

50 NP, 207. 

51 Clulee notes the sixteenth-century vitality of this tradition, but does not relate it to Dee’s conversations. 
See NP, 133-5. 

52 Deborah E. Harkness, “Shews in the Showstone: John Dee’s Angelic Conversations,” Renaissance 
Quarterly, 49 (1996): 707-737 (709, 711). For more on Harkness’s cultural contexualization of Dee’s 
angelic conversations see “The Scientific Reformation: John Dee and the Restitution of Nature” 
(Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of California Davis, 1994). 

53 Harkness, “Shews in the Showstone,” 709. 

54 Harkness, “Shews in the Showstone,” 715-716. These claims are repeated in her book. See Deborah E. 
Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy and the End of the World (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1999), 77, 96, 100-101, 117, etc. 

55 Harkness, “Shews in the Showstone,” 718, 732. 

56 See my introduction to this volume, 9-10, supra. 

57 See, for example, Conversations with Angels, 40, where Harkness argues that Solomonic magical 
works “contribute little” to our understanding of Dee’s angelic diaries. In my view, Harkness tends to 
exaggerate the differences between Dee’s conversations and mediaeval magical pratices by dis¬ 
tinguishing too readily between “prayer” on the one hand and “conjuration” and “invocation” on the 
other. See, for example, Conversations with Angels, 96, 120, 123, etc. 

58 See Brian Copenhaver, “Natural magic, hermetism, and occultism in early modem science” in David C. 
Lindberg and Robert S. Westman, eds., Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1990), 261-302. 

59 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 107. 

60 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 107. Cf. her contrast between Ficinian natural magic and the mediaeval magical 
tradition, Giordano Bruno, 80: “How elegant, how artistic and refined is this modem natural magic! If we 
think of the Neoplatonic philosopher singing Orphic hymns, accompanying himself on the lira di braccio 
[...] and then compare this Renaissance vision with the barbarous mutterings of some invocation in Picatrix, 
the contrast between the new magic and the old is painfully evident. [...] If we think of the flowers, jewels, 
scents with which Ficino’s patients are advised to surround themselves, of the charmingly healthy and 
wealthy way of life which they are to follow, and compare this with the filthy and obscene substances, the 



264 


S. CLUCAS 


stinking and disgusting mixtures recommended in the Picatrix, the contrast is again most striking between 
the new elegant magic [...] and that old dirty magic.” 

61 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 108. 

62 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 102. 

63 See Marsilio Ficino, Marsilius Ficinus Florentinus de triplici vita (Paris, 1491), III, xvi, sigs. n.viii r -iiii v . 
The reference to the “Arab fraternity” is at sig. n.viii v . 

64 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 140, 145-6; idem, Occult Philosophy, 38, 116. 

65 Clulee, 138: “Trithemius’s sources were almost entirely mediaeval works of the notory art, such as the 
Clavicula Salomonis, the Ars Notoria, the Liber Razielis [...]. Another of Trithemius’s sources, [was] the 
Latin Picatrix .” See also Trithemius’s Liber Polygraphiae (Argentinae, 1600), 597 where he gives an 
“alphabetum Honorij cognomento Thebani” (i.e the purported author of the Pseudo-Solomonic Liber sacer, 
also known as The Sworn Book of Honorius ), commenting that “his operations had been clouded over by (or 
concealed in) foolish magic as it is revealed in Book Four of Petrus de Apono” (cuius ministerio suas in 
magicis fatuitates abscondit, sicut Petrus de Apono restatur in suo maiore libro quarto). 

66 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 107. 

67 NP, 132-3. 

68 Yates, Giordano Bruno, 83: “When Hermes Trismegistus entered the Church, the history of magic 
became involved with the history of religion in the Renaissance.” 

69 There are numerous extant transcriptions of Pseudo-Solomonic magical texts made in the eighteenth 
century. See, for example, the manuscript copies of the Clavicula Salomonis Regis and the Sefer Raziel 
collected by General Charles Rainsford (1727-1809), Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar, in the library of the 
Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle. See Third Report of the Royal Commission on Historical 
Manuscripts ( London, 1872), 122-3. 

70 Johann Wier, De Praestigiis Daemonum, et incantationibus [etc.] (Basel, 1566), II, iii, in Witches, devils 
and doctors in the Renaissance, trans. John Shea (Binghamton: Mediaeval and Renaissance Texts & 
Studies, 1991), 104. 

71 Wier, De Praestigiis Daemonum, II, iii, 104-5. Cf. II, v, 110: “Furthermore these magicians not only 
claim that eminent men, holy patriarchs, and angels of God are the authors of such wicked and execrable 
doctrines; they do not even blush to make a display of books passed down by Raziel and Raphael, the angels 
of Adam and Tobias - seeking by this ruse to give a more attractive appearance to their own monstrous 
creation [Empusa].” 

72 Wier, De Praestigiis daemonum, II, v, 111. 

73 Wier, De Praestigiis daemonum, II, v, 112. 

74 D.P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella, Studies of the Warburg Institute, 
22 (London: The Warburg Institute, 1958), 76, cit. Whitby, “Renaissance Scrying”, 26. 

75 Lib. Myst., fol. 8 V . 

76 De Heptarchia Mystica, British Library, Sloane MS 3191, fol. 45 r . 

77 James A.H. Murray, A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded mainly on the 
materials collected by the Philological Society, 10 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897-1928), “Exercise”, 
10 a-f, III, 402; R.E. Latham, Revised Mediaeval Latin Word List from British and Irish Sources (London: 
Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1965), “exercitus”, 111, and J.E. Niermeyer, Mediae 
Latinitatis Lexicon Minus (Leiden: Brill, 1976), “exercitium”, 392. 

78 Archbishop John Whitgift, The defense of the Aunswere to the admonition against the Replie ofT[homas] 
C[artwright] (London, 1575), in J. Ayre, ed., The Works of J. Whitgift, 3 vols (Cambridge, 1851-3), II, 197. 
See also Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (London: Jonathan Cape, 1967), Chapter 5, 
“Exercises, Conferences and Fasts”, 208-221. 

79 John Dee to Roger Edwardes, 12 July 1580, British Library, Cotton MS Vitellius CVII, fol. 315r. 
Edwardes’s “spiritual exercises” consisted in “laboring] the scriptures (without Interpreters) [...] to reade 
Godds booke simpliciter .” Roger Edwardes to John Dee, 31 March 1580, ibid., fol. 312 r v . 

80 See, for example, Lib.Myst., fol. 124 r : “There were many other particulars of the Action w ch might be 
noted.” 

81 Lib. Myst., fols. 122 v -123 r . 

82 See Aegidio Forcellini, Lexicon Totius Latinitatis, 3 vols (Patavia, 1840), “Actio”, 2., I, 60. Whitgift, for 
example, talks about “ministering the sacraments, public prayers, and other such-like godly actions”, Works, 
II, 588. 



ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS AND THE ARS NOTORIA 


265 


83 Charles Du Fresne Du Cange, Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae Latinitatis, 10 vols (Paris, 
1733-1766), “Actio”, I, cols. 108-9. 

84 Revised Mediaeval Latin Word List , 5-6. 

85 See Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus , “Mysterium”, 697; Du Cange Glossarium Mediae, V, 
“Mysterium”, 563-4; Latham, Revised Mediaeval Word List, “Mysterium”, 310. For patristic usages see 
Lexicon Totius Latinitatis, III, “Mysterium”, 326-7. 

86 De Heptarchia Mystica, British Library, Sloane MS 3191, fol. 33 r . See also Lib. Myst., fol. T, where he 
refers to “The Mysteries of <thy> truthes vnderstanding”. 

87 On Dee’s prophetic self-fashioning see Stephen Clucas, “Non est legendum sed inspicendum solum : 
Inspectival knowledge and the visual logic of John Dee’s Liber Mysteriorum ” in Alison Adams and Stanton 
J. Linden, eds., Emblems and Alchemy (Glasgow: Glasgow Emblem Studies, 1998), 109-132, esp. 127-9. 

88 Lib. Myst., fol. 8 r . 

89 In a note on a loose sheet bound between the Liber Auxilij et Victoriae Terrestris and the De Heptarchia 
Mystica, Dee seems to find corroboration for the heptarchical basis of his doctrine in the angelology of 
Clement of Alexandria: “In septenarijs totus Mundus circumiugitur omnium quae et Viua gignuntur, et quae 
nascuntur. Septem quidem sunt, (quorum est maxima potentia) Primogeniti Angeloru[m] Principes &c. 
Cleme[n]s Alex. Strom, lib. 6 .” De Heptarchia Mystica, BL, Sloane MS 3191, fol. 32 r . 

90 Lib. Myst., fol. 80 r . 

91 Lib. Myst., fol. 51 r . The underlinings are in the original MS. 

92 See, for example, MH, 5 V , 8 V , and 17 r . 

93 MH, \T. In mediaeval Latin “Mystagogia” signified “revelation”, see Latham, Revised Mediaeval Latin 
Word List, “Mystagogia”, 310. 

94 MH, T. 

95 MH, 13 r . 

96 John Dee to William Cecil, 3 October 1574, British Library, Burghley Papers 1574-5, Lansdowne MS 19, 
fols. 81 r -83 r . 

97 John Dee to Roger Edwardes, 12 July 1580, British Library, Cotton MS Vitellius CVII, fol. 315 r . 

98 Cf. Dee’s defense of “Thaumaturgike” or “Actes and Feates, Naturally, Mathematically, and 
Mechanically, wrought and contriued,” as a practice permitted to the “Modest Christian Philosopher”, in 
MP, sig.Aj v - Aiif. 

99 See Ars notoria, Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 1515, Latin and English, sixteenth century, fols. 9 r , 24 r . 

100 Robert Turner, The Ars Notoria: The Notory Art of Solomon (London, 1657). It is not insignificant, 
perhaps, that Turner saw the “Notory Art” as a “holy and Sacramental Mystery,” (The Ars Notoria, 16) 
rather than a form of “magic”. 

101 NP, 39-73. 

102 Thorndike, History, II, 286. 

103 Gregory, Regulapastoralis (n.p., 1480), Tractatus de curapastoralis bead Gregory pape, cap. I, sig.a.j r : 
“ars est artium regimen animarum”. 

104 Ars notoria, British Library, Harleian MS 181, fol. 19 r : “ieiunabis in pane et aqua tribus diebus, non 
manducando, quosque in celo stelle videan[tur] [...] et da pauperibus”. 

105 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol.26 r “ieiunandu[m] est in ipsis diebus, quibus inspiciun[tur] 
figure”. 

106 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 57 r . 

107 Liber Sacer, British Library, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fifteenth century, fol. 13 v : “Primo sit mundus operans 
non pollutus, et cum devocione faciat non astute non commedat neque bibat”. 

108 Liber Sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fol. 14 v . 

109 Liber Sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fol. 13 v . Cf. Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel), British Library, 
Sloane MS 3846, sixteenth-seventeenth Century, fol. 130 v : “he that shall write this booke oughte to be 
cleane & fasting & bathed & suffumed with precious aromatikes, that is with spices well smelling”. 

110 Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel), BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 130 r . 

111 Magical Tracts, British Library, Sloane MS 3851, seventeenth century, collected by “one Mr Arthur 
Gauntlet, who professed Phisick, and lived about Graies Inn Lane” (fol. 2v). The quotes are from the 
“Instructions of Ptolomie”, fol. 3 r . 

112 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 19 r : “locu[m] secretu[m], videlicet in ecclesia[m], vel in atriu[m], 
vel in ortu[m]”. 

113 Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel), BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 130 v . 

114 Liber virtutis, British Library, Harleian MS 181, sixteenth century, fol. 



266 


S. CLUCAS 


115 Ars Notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 26 r : “Item solus sit [...] qui opera[tur] in eis [...] nisi esset 
magister artis, qui instrueret operantem”. Nobody “other than the true partner of the teacher is allowed to be 
present whilst the orations are pronounced, or the figures are viewed” (Aliu[m] vero sociu[m] praeter 
mag[istre]m non licet habere in inspectione figuraru[m], nee in pronu[n]ciatione orationu[m] suaru[m]), 
ibid. 

116 Ars notoria , BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 76 r : “Et camera[m] habeas secreta[m], nitida[m], munda[m], ab 
immunditijs aranearu[m], et pulueris, et clausa[m]: Eisque solus dormiens in ea: Erit etia[m] seratus 
mundus; et in ea in modu[m] altaris mensula mundis lintheis cooperta, et super earn duo candelabra cu[m] 
cereis benedictis in Purificatione ardentes.” Although this quote is from a text (the De arte crucifixi Pelagij 
Solitary ) which belongs to another genus of magical art, it is nonetheless closely related to Pseudo- 
Solomonic practices. For more on the Pelagian “art of the crucifix” see Stephen Clucas, “ Regimen 
Animarum et Corporum : The Body and Spatial Practice in mediaeval and Renaissance magic”, in Daryll 
Grantley and Nina Taunton, eds., The Body in Late Mediaeval and Early Modern Culture (Ashgate: 
Aldershot, 2000), 113-129 (esp. 116-119). 

117 Ars notoria, British Library, Sloane MS 1712, thirteenth century, fol. l r 

118 Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel), BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol.l31 r . Cf. also fol. 129 r : “the 7 treatises of this 
booke be these. The first is said Clauis, for that in it, is determined of Astronomy, & of the starrs for without 
them we may doe nothing”. 

119 See, for example, Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, which gives detailed prescriptions concerning the 
correct phases of the moon ( lunationes ) for each segment of the magical operation it describes. 

120 See, for e.g. Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel), BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 131 v , which names “7 bretheren” 
and their planets: Sabaday (Saturn), Zedet (Jupiter), Madin (Mars), Hamina (Sun), Noga (Venus), Cocab 
(Mercury), and Labana (Moon). 

121 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 19 v : “verte faciem tua[m] versu[m] oriente[m]: et in terra[m] 
prosteme manus”. 

122 See Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 19 v : “in terra[m] prosteme manus, dicendo 7. psalmos 
poenitentiales, cum .7. orationibus dominicalibus, et [...] totidem Credo in Deu[m], humiliter implorando”. 

123 See Liber sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fols. 29 r -31 r , which includes three orations dedicated to the 
Virgin Mary - “Ave Maria”, “Salve Regina” and “O gloriosa domina virgo”. 

124 See Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 20 r : “ Pater noster: Aue Maria: Et ne nos inducas &c [...] 
Pater de coelis Deus, miserere nobis : det sic tota litania est dicenda [...].” and Liber virtutis, BL, Harleian 
MS 181, fol. 5 V : 4 Miserere mei Deus; all the verses, with Gloria patri sicut erat. Kyrie eleson, [Christe] 
eleson, Kyrie eleson Pater noster and Aue Maria 3. Credo in Deum. Confiteor. Misereatur nostriP 

125 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 18 r . See also the description of the art at fol. 56 v : “This art or 
operation consists in orations in which are invoked, recited and named the names of the holy ones dwelling 
in the celestial abodes of the living God.” (istins artis vel operac[io]nis consistit in orac[io]nibus; inter quas 
no[m]i[n]ant[ur] recitant[ur] et inuocantu[r] n[omin]a sanctoru[m] Dei uiui in supernis sedibus resi- 
dentium). 

126 See for example, Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel), BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 129 v : “The name [of this 
book] expanded in Latin is Angelus magnus secreti Creatoris. That is to say the great Angell of the secret 
creator. And in hebme Cephar Raziel that is the booke of hollines & of fullfillinge & it was the first booke 
after Adam written in language of Caldey & afterwards translated in hebme”. See also the marginal glosses 
to Ars Notoria, Bodleian MS Ashmole 1515, sixteenth century, fol. 5 r v , where the magical orations are 
described variously as “oratio hebraica”, “chald[aica]” or “Arabic[a]”. 

127 Ars notoria, BL, Sloane MS 1712, fol. 16 v . 

128 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 39 r . 

129 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 50 r v : “q[uam]vis indignus sum, mihi concedas, et in mente[m] 
mea[m] confirma et corrobora,” and fol. 39 r : “da mihi ea quae [...] credo absque malignitatis intentione 
scientiam.” 

130 See for example, Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 37 v : “viuifica intellectu[m] meu[m] foecunda 
mihi memoria[m] mihi. Exalta co[n]scientia[m] mea[m],” and fol. 38 v : “augmentetur sensus meus, et 
memoria mea [...] aperta m ihi scientiae ianua gratuletur cor meu[m], et confirmatu[m], et emundatu[m] per 
vos percipiet, et consemet scientia[m] et sapientia[m] [...] da mihi ea quae desidero.” 

131 See for example, Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 19 r : “addens vnicuique corpori spiritu[m] 
propriu[m] et veracem, ad custodiendu[m] ilium, et defendendum ab incursionibus spirituu[m] 
immundom[m] et illusionibus eorum”, and fol. 20 v : “Obsecro te angelice spiritus; cui ego ad prouidendum 



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267 


com[m]issus sum; vt custodias me indefinenter; et protegas ab incursu diaboli, vigilantem, et dormientem, 
nocte et die [...] repelle a me omnem temptatione[m] Sathanae.” 

132 See, for example, Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 46 r : “Deus exaudi praeces meas; et adiuva me 
in opere sancto isto,” and fol. 48 r : “Te domine suppliciter imploro, deposco, flagito et supplico.” 

133 See Ars notoria , BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 38 r : “mitte mihi sanctos angelos tuos de excelso coelo, qui 
custodiant me, et sensu[m], et memoria[m] et intelligentia[m] mea[m] et adimplea[m] praecepta tua” and 
fol. 55 r : “Funda Domine in me, ilium quadrangulare philosophiae palaciu[m].” 

134 See Stephen Clucas, “Wondrous force and operation: magic, science and religion in the Renaissance” in 
Philippa Berry and Margaret Tudeau, eds., Textures of Renaissance Knowledge (Manchester: Manchester 
University Press, 2003), 35-57. 

135 See, for example, Liber sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fol. 4 V : “the first chapter is of the 
composyssyon of the greate name of god which the hebrues call sememphoras which doth consyst of .72 
[...] letters which is the beginning of the arte”, and Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel), BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 
129 v , where it is claimed that it contains “all semoforax, that is the great name compleate with all his names 
whole & even & with his vertus and sacraments”. See also Johannes Reuchlin, De arte Cabalistica libri 
Tres (Hagenau, 1517), 58 v : “Sunt itaque lxxii nomina sacra quod unum Semhamphores id est sanctissimi 
Tetragrammati nomen expositorum d[icitu]r per invocationes angelorum ab hominibus deo deditis, 
deuotisque cum timore ac tremore sic enuncianda.” 

136 Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel) , BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 155 v . 

137 Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel) , BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 132 r . 

138 Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel) , BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 155 v . 

139 See, for example, Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel) , BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 155 v -156 r : “this is the name 
thou shalt name when thou wilt speake with angells & they thy question & thy worke without doubt shall 
fulfill”, and fol. 156 r : “these names thou shalt name when thou wilt that the Elements & winds fulfill thy 
will in all things.” 

140 See, for example, Ars notoria , British Library, Sloane MS 313, fourteenth-fifteenth century, fols. 2 V -4 V , 
and Liber sacer , BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fols. 9 V et seq., which describes “the makinge off the seale off 
the true and lyuinge god.” 

141 See, for example, Liber Sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fol. 6r, which refers to “a glasse wherein thow 
shalte see the whole worlde.” 

142 See Ars Notoria , BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 18 r : “incipit sanctissima ars Notoria [...] vt per earn omnes 
scientias liberales, mechanicas et exceptiuas, et earum facultates per breue spatiu[m] temporis posset 
adquirere et habere.” 

143 See, for e.g. Ars notoria , BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 30 v : “Non debent legi sed inspici tantum.” On the 
theme of magical “inspection” in the Pseudo-Solomonic tradition see Clucas “Inspectival knowledge and 
the visual logic of John Dee’s Liber Mysteriorum' , \ 115-121. 

144 See^fra notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 38 r . 

145 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 43 v , re. the “figure of the dialectical art” (figura artis dyaleticae), 
which allows one to “acquire and possess perfect knowledge [of dialectics] and retain it in the memory” 
( acquirere, et habere, et memoriter retinere perfecta[m] scientiam). 

146 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, for example, gives the figures and orations for “artis Grammaticae” 
(fols. 25 r et seq.), and orations for “Dyalectica” (fols. 39 r et seq.), “artis Rethoricae” (fols. 46 v et seq.), “artis 
phisicae” (fols. 59 v et seq.), “artis musicae” (fols. 60 r et seq.), “artis arismetricae” (fols. 61 v et seq.) and 
“Astronomiae” (fols. 65 v et seq.). The accompanying figures for dialectic through to astronomy are missing, 
although spaces have been reserved for their inclusion. This manuscript seems to be a late copy of a much 
earlier text, it has substantial points of textual overlap, for example, with Ars notoria, BL, Sloane MS 1712, 
(cf. fol. 16 v , and Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 39 r , for example). The thirteenth-century 
manuscript does, however, include figures for theology, geometry and jurisprudence, which are absent from 
the later manuscript. 

147 See Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 69 r et seq. for a description of the “figura generaliu[m]” or 
“Nota Dei”, and fol. 30 v for “4 signa a Deo Data Salomoni omni[bus] artibus communia.” For earlier 
examples of this “general figure” see Ars notoria, BL, Sloane MS 1712, fol. 20 v and Bodley MS 951, 
fifteenth century, fol. 10 v . 

148 Liber sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fols. 5 r -6 v . 

149 Lib. Myst., fol. 13 v . 



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S. CLUCAS 


150 Lib. Myst., fol. 55 r . Cf. also T&FR, 178, where Dee says “I do know assuredly that there is very much 
matter in this table”, and his angelic interlocutor replies “/1 is true: for hitherto , stretched the knowledge of 
Solomon ,” and Dee notes in the margin: “ Solomon his knowledge.” 

151 Lib. Myst., fol. 12 r . On the rabbinical tradition of Solomon’s magic ring and its alleged relation to earlier 
Parsi traditions, see Moncure Daniel Conway, Solomon and Solomonic Literature (London, 1899), 185-6. 

152 Lib. Myst., fol. 12 r (marginal note): “Vide Reuchlini libru[m] de Verbo Mirifico de nomine PELE.” 

153 See, for example, the De quatuor annulis, British Library, Sloane MS 3847 sixteenth-seventeenth 
century, fols. 66 r -81 v , which presents a series of “seales” which bear a generic resemblance to some of Dee’s 
talismanic “tables” or “scutcheons”. 

154 Lib. Myst., fol. 8 V . For a fuller account of Dee’s ascetic regime see Gabriel’s injunction on 13 October 
1583 in T&FR , 39-40. Cf T&FR, 53: “Fight [...] and cast off the world. Make flesh subiect, and strangle 
your Adversary. For unto such belongeth the entrance into my Chambers, and the use of my will”. 

155 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 26 r . 

156 Lib. Myst., fol. 51 r . Cf. also fol. 17 r , where Dee and Kelley are required to take a “vow [Required for 
secresie”. Dee is frequently worried by domestic intrusions on his actions, and there are many references to 
the closing of outer doors, etc. 

157 Lib. Myst., fol. 70 v . Dee is told that the 49 prayers of the book have “49 manner of Vnderstandings. 
Therein is comprehended so many languages They are all spoken at ones.” However, he is also told that 
“Vntill thow com[m]e to the Citie [i.e. the new Jerusalem] thow canst not behold the beawty thereof.” 
(Ibid.) 

158 Lib. Myst., fol. 64 r . 

159 Lib. Myst., fol. 74 v : “[EK] Prayed perfectely in this Angel’s language.” 

160 Lib. Myst., fol. 80 r . 

161 Lib. Myst., fol. 70 v . 

162 T&FR, 88. 

163 Lib. Myst., fol. 24 r . This is a circular figure containing a cross, and the letters g, m, 1, 1, e and e 
(clockwise). The angels’ names are to be produced by combining each letter with the cross in turn: “7 secrett 
Angels preceding from euery letter and cross so formed”. Cf. fol.l7 v et seq., in which 40 tablets carried by 
“40 white creatures” are identified as being “Nomen dei vel No[m]i[n]a Diuina”. 

164 See, for example, Lib. Myst., fol. 25 r : “In 7 must you work all things”, fol. 28 v : “Let us praise the God of 
7”. Cf. Liber Salomonis (Sefer Raziel), BL, Sloane MS 3846, fol. 13l r : “the 7 wordes [of the key] be 7 
angells which han might in the 7 heauens & in the 7 dayes of the weeke”. The Sefer Raziel is said to contain 
seven books (fol. 129 v ), and there are seven “semaphoras” which “god the creator gaue to Adam in 
paradise” (fol. 155 v ). 

165 Lib. Myst, fol. 30 r . In many Solomonic texts there is a lengthy description of how to construct such a seal, 
see for example Liber sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fols. 9 V et seq.: “here folowithe the makinge off the 
seale off the true and lyuinge god”. 

166 See R&W, 168 for details of Dee’s copy of Honorius Magister Thebarum’s Liber Juratus (R&W, no. 
DM70). This manuscript also bears the inscription “Sum Ben: Jonsonij liber”. 

167 Lib. Myst., fol. 12 v : “I need to know, which of them I shall imitate: or how to make one perfect of them 
all”. 

168 Lib. Myst., fol. 12 v : “De Sigillo Emeth vide Reuchl ini Cabalisticae Lib 3 et Agrippa[m] Lib. 3 cap.l 1”. 

169 Lib. Myst., fol. 51 r . Cf. Liber sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fol. 5 r : “to knowe the seales [...] [and] 
offyce of euery angell [...] to obtayne all syences [... and] to know all thinges present past and to comme.” 

110 Lib. Myst., fol. 57 v . 

171 Liber sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fol. 5 V . 

172 Lib. Myst., fol. 68 r . 

173 Liber sacer, BL, Royal MS 17.A.XLII, fol. 6 r . 

174 Lib. Myst, fol. 36 v . 

175 Lib. Myst., fol. 39 r v . 

176 Lib. Myst., fols. 7 r ' v , and fols. 118 r -121 r . Cf. Libri Cracoviensis Mysticus Apertorius, Julii, 12 1584, 
T&FR, 219: “Behold, those that dig into Nature with dull mattocks, and dull Spades, are such, as of every 
congeled substance can imagin, but not judge: are foolish, and of the world: whose imaginations, are 
become the instruments of vanity [...]. Wo be unto them, for their disputations and doctrines, are dogma’s 
and dull [...]. But by him you are lifted up, that is the God of Justice, and the Discloser of his own secrets : 
and the headlong drawer of things to an end.” See also the spirit Madimi’s condemnation of the venality of 



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human scholarship, T&FR, 216: “Wo be unto the books of the earth, for they are corrupted; and are become 
a wrasting stock, and firebrand to the conscience.” 

177 Mensis Mysticus Saobaticus, pars prima ejusdem, T&FR, 91. Cf. Lib. Myst., fol. 24 r , where Dee asks the 
angel Michael for “Perfect knowledg and vnderstanding”, noting in the margin: “My continuall and auncient 
prayer.” 

178 See Ars notoria, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 1515, sixteenth century, fol. 9 r : “Of this 
Oration he sayth, y l is the mistery thereof y 1 it moveth even the caelestiall sp[er]its to doe some grett thing 
by p[er]mission of ye divine pow[e]r.” 

179 Lib. Myst., fols. 119 r and 120 r . Cf. T&FR, 111. 

180 Ars notoria, BL, Harleian MS 181, fol. 68 r [my emphasis]. 

181 Desiderius Erasmus, “Vita D. Ioannis Phisceri Rofensis Episcopi ex D. Erasmi Rotherdami scriptis 
elicita”, in Incomparabilis Doctrine, Trium item Linguarum peritissimi uiri D. Erasmi Rotherodami, in 
sanctissimorum martirum Rofensis Episcopi, ac Thomae Mori (Haganau, 1536), sig. Bij v : “uiro singulari 
pietate atque eruditione”. Cf. sig. Biij v , where he describes Fisher as “Episcopus uerae pietatis unicu[m] 
Exemplar.” 

182 See, for example, T&FR, 32: “We prayed the Psalm of thanksgiving 14 of Roffensis for E.K. his 
deliverance from Barma and his 14 companions,” and T&FR, 171-2: “as the Lord A[lbertus] L[asky] was 
reading Rofensis psalm, de Fiducia in Deum, suddenly upon E.K. his right shoulder did a heavy thing seem 
to sit, or rest, whereof he told the Lord A. L. And afterward was this voyce uttered by that Creature in 
Latine. Lasky, veniet tempus, cum tu portabis versum sedecimum, illius. Psalmi undecimi, in vexillo tuo, & 
vinces inimicos tuos. Then A. L. sought in Davids Psalter for the eleventh Psalm, and sixteenth verse thereof: 
and while he was so about that Psalm, The voyce said that he meant not that Psalm of David, but the 
eleventh Psalm of Roffensis : which Psalm the Lord A. L. was then in reading to E.K. and was about the 
verse, Hie labor ac dolor, &c. being the sixth verse.” See Fisher, Psalmi et Precationi, “Psalmus XI. De 
fiducia in Deum”, 61-12. 

183 John Fisher, Psalmi seu Precationes D. loan. Fisheri Episcopi Roffensis. Accessit Imploratio diuini 
auxilij contra tentationem ex Psalmis Dauidis, per Th. Morum (London, 1572), Psalmus V, 44-49. For the 
relevant passage see 48: “Recte sapere & intelligere doceto [sic. for docete] me,/ nam sapientia tua totum 
quod volo./ Da verbum tuum in ore meo, & in corde meo sapientiam tuam fige.” See Appendix 2 for the full 
text of Fisher’s fifth psalm as it was published c. 1525. 

184 Fisher, Psalmi, 44-6. 

185 Lib. Myst., fol. 5r. See Appendix 1 for the complete text of the oration. Although it dates “ab anno 
1579”, Dee had obviously been using others for some time, as he refers to other prayers of this type, 
addressed to Raphael and Michael, which he had written in both Latin and English “circa annu[m] 1569”. 

186 De Heptarchia Mystica, BL, Sloane MS 3191, fol. 46 r . 

187 De Heptarchia Mystica, BL, Sloane MS 3191, fols.61 r -80 v . 

188 De Heptarchia Mystica, BL, Sloane MS 3191, fol. 46 r . 

189 De Heptarchia Mystica, BL, Sloane MS 3191, fols. 45 v -46 r . 

190 See, for example, T&FR, 4: “Me protege [...] qua diabolum & Sathanicae fraudem,” and T&FR, 54: 
“We beseech him that we may [...] overcome all other Diabolical assaults or sophistical, or untrue 
perswasions,” and T&FR, 183: “Oratione contra Tentationes Sathanae.” 

191 See T&FR, 175-180. The characters of the table were supposedly the “true Images of God his 
creatures” (175), which would allow Dee to “work all the world over at one time” (178). For a full 
account of the table’s putative properties see T&FR, 179-180. 

192 De Heptarchia Mystica, BL, Sloane MS 3191, fol. 57 v : “Quater Tria, Nomina Dei, (ex quatuor lineis 
Spiritus sancti extracta), quae, omnes super Terram Creaturas, (tarn Invisibiles, quam Visibiles).” See for 
example the invitation to the “six senior angels of the East” (SEX SENIORUM Orientalium Invitatio”, 
ibid., fol. 59 r : “O vos sex SENIORES, Orientales [...] In Nomine eiusdem DEI, (Vnius et Trini) O vos (in 
quam) ABIORO, siue HABIORO, AAOXIAF, HTMORDA, HAOZPI, siue AHAOZPI, HIPOTGA et 
AVTOTAR [etc].” 

193 Lib. Myst., fol. 8 r . 

194 T&FR, 62, 91. The “particularity” of these invitations refers to their being addressed to particular 
angels. See, for example, T&FR, 222 where Dee records a prayer to Uriel: “I invite Uriel, to illuminate 
us, direct us and console us, etc.” ( invito Vriele ut nos illuminaret, dirigeret, consolaretur etc.) 

195 See, for example, the prayer in De Heptarchia Mystica, BL, Sloane MS 3191, fol. 45 which begins: 
“O Almighty, Aetemall, the True and Living God: O King of Glory: O Lord of Hoasts,” which requests 




270 


S. CLUCAS 


“the obteyning of somme convenient portion of True Knowledg, and understanding of thy lawes and 
Ordonances.” Cf. also Lib. Myst, fol. 42 r : “I [...] called vnto God, for his divine help for the vnderstanding 
of his laws and vertues, knowing and ynderstandfingl which he hath established in and amongst his 
Creatures, for the benefyt of mankinde, in his seruice, and for his glorie etc .” The underlining is in the 
original MS. 

196 See, for example, T&FR, 118: “Mitte lucem tuam & veritatem, O Deus &c.” and 102: “Precibus ad 
deum finitis, pro luce & veritate, in hanc formam, mitte nobis spiritum sanctum & veritatem tuam, ut 
sapienter, fideliter & constanter tibi serviamus, omnibus diebus vitae nostrae. Amen.” 

191 Lib. Myst., fol. 61 r . 

198 T&FR, 145. In the “Protestatio fidelis” (Lib. Myst., fol. T) Dee noted that God had sent “good 
Angells” to the Biblical prophets “to instruct them, informe them helpe them, yea in worldly domesticall 
affaires.” 

199 See T&FR, 162. 

200 T&FR, 104-5: “Gabfriel] [...] O thou eternal foundation and strength of all things, mortal and immortal, 
which delight in thy face and in the glorie of thy name. Consider the foundations of our fragility, and enter 
into the weaknesse of our inward parts: for we are become empty; whose salt is not, nor hath any savour: 
Fortifie, and make us strong in thee, and in thy strength; Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, Have 
mercy upon us; that in this world our strength may be in patience, and after this life, that we may ascend 
unto thee.” Cf. T&FR, 82, where Gabriel recites a similar prayer and orders Dee and Kelley to “Say so unto 
God kneeling.” 

201 T&FR, 196-7. 

202 Lib. Myst., fol. 9 V . 

203 Lib. Myst., fol. 26 r . Cf. fol. 34 r : “Pray and that vehemently, For these things are not reuealed without 
great prayer”. 

204 Anthonie Gilbie, The Psalmes ofDauid, truly opened and explained by paraphrasis [...] set foorth in 
Latine by that excellent learned man THEODORE BEZA. And faithfully translated into English (London, 
1581), sig. a3 v . 

205 A Treatise made by Athanasius the greate wherin is set forth how and in what manner ye may vse the 
psalmes, according to the effect of mynde, in Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins, The Whole booke of 
Psalmes collected into Englyshe Meter (London, 1564), sigs.Aviii r -Bv v . On the tradition of using prayer 
for practical and operative purposes see Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, studies in 
popular beliefs in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1971, 
repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1991), 45-9, and 133-151, and Eamon Duffy, The stripping of the 
altars, traditional religion in England C.1400-C.1580 (Newhaven and London: Yale University Press, 
1992), Chapter 8, “Charms, Pardons and Promises: “Superstition” in the Primers”, 266-298. 

206 James Anderson, ed., Commentary on the Book of Psalms. By John Calvin. Translated from the 
original Latin, and collated with the author’s French version, 5 vols (Edinburgh, 1845-9), I, xxxviii. 

207 Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, III, 67-8 

208 T&FR, 82. 

209 T&FR, 74: “the Lord appeared unto them in a vision: But he cometh when you are awake: Unto them he 
came unlooked for, unto you he cometh requested.” 

210 T&FR, 88. 

211 See, for example, T&FR, 40. 

212 Lib. Myst., fol. 92 r . Cf. T&FR, 67: “O Jesu Christ, we have committed our selves into thy hand; and do 
submit our wills to thy govemement.” 

213 T&FR, 58. 

2U Lib. Myst., fol. 75 r . 

215 Lib. Myst., fol. 39 v . 

216 Lib. Myst., fol.55 v . 

211 Lib. Myst., fol.91 r . 

218 T&FR, 188. 

219 Lib. Myst., fol. 43 v : “What say you concerning the Chamber, for our practise may my farderest little 
Chamber, serue, yf the bed be taken downe.” 

220 See, for example, Lib. Myst., fols. 42 r , 79 v , 98 v , etc. 

221 Libri Mystici Apertorii Cracoviensis sabbatici, An.1584, in T&FR, 115. 

222 Lib. Myst., fol. 103 r . 

223 Lib. Myst., fol. 105 v . 



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271 


224 T&FR, 138. 

225 See, for example, T&FR, 186. 

226 See Lib. Myst., fol. 18 v : “Herevppon we prayed a psalme; <my skryer> saying one verse, and I the 
other etc.” 

227 T&FR, 146. “Ex Psalterio post 67 Psalmum.” 

228 T&FR, 67 

229 T&FR, 82: “Oratione Dominica finita, & brevi oratione Psalmi 33. inspecto Chrystallo apparuere utrique 
Gabriel & Nalvage .” 

230 Lib. Myst., fol. 89 r . 

231 T&FR, 101. See Fisher, Psalmi, 60-63: “Psalmus Novus. Contra inimicos.” 

232 T&FR, 83: “With great difficulty this Letter was discerned [...] Nalvage denied it to be an X. and said he 
knew not yet the mystery: say the Lords prayer, for I cannot open it [...] At length he said it was V.” 

233 T&FR, 186. 

234 Lib. Myst., fol. 98 v . 

235 T&FR, 211: “Oratione Dominica finita, & variis ejaculationibus factis tarn ad Gabrielem, quam 
Nalvage, Ave, Mapsma & Ilemer, quam maxime ad Deum ipsum pro sua lumine, auxilio & protectione; 
tarn ipsa actione, quam itinere praesenti, futuro, versus aulam Caesaris.” 

236 T&FR, 62: “prayers of the 7 Psalms, and my particular invitation and calling for God his help, and the 
ministery of his good Angels.” 

237 T&FR, 89: “a short prayer to God for remission of sins, and sending of his graces, and his good 
ministers assigned for our instructions: and for the avoiding away of the great enemy &c.” 

238 See T&FR, 210: “I made a short discourse to God of my sincere and just dealing”, and ibid., 73: 
“divers prayers and contestation of our humility, obedience and credit in these Actions.” 

239 T&FR, 165: “prayers due, and thanks to the almighty for his great mercies and power shewed in the 
conversion of E.K [...] and divers our short discourses of faith, hope, patience, constancy, humility, and 
other duties requisite to this action.” 

240 See, for example, T&FR, 111: “short prayers for the success of Albert Lasky [...] queries and requests 
concerning his rights of inheritance, and other very brief ejaculations, for success in this action.” 
(precatiuncula pro prospero successo A[lberti] L[askii] [...] quaeritantis & petentis jus suum heredi- 
tarium, & aliis brevissimis ejaculationibus, pro prospero successu in hac actione .) 

241 Lib. Myst., fol. 68 r . Cf. Bodley MS 951, Ars notoria, fol. 19 r : “Ph[ilosophi]ce dicas istam orationem”. 

242 T&FR, 219. 

243 John Fisher, Tractatus de necessitate orandi, in Ioannis Fischerii, Roffensis in Anglia Episcopi Opera 
(Wirceburg, 1595), col. 1718: “Sunt enim tria praecipua fructum genera qui nobis ex oratione proueniunt. 
Et primum sane, meritum ipsum est [...]. Alteram est rei (quam orantes postulamus) impetratio. Tertium 
est mirae cuisdam dulcedinis gustus quo dum oramus afficimur.” 

244 Fisher, De necessitate orandi, “De rei postulatae impetratione, qui secundus fractus dicebatur”, cols. 
1719-1720. 

245 Fisher, De necessitate orandi, col. 1720: “Nos vtique quoties recte operamur, in Dei manu positi 
sumus, quemadmodum in fabri manu tenetur malleus. Et vt faber inter operandum suo malleo velut 
instramentum quodam vtitur, sic Deus nobis tanquam instramentis vtitur, quoties recte operamur. Nam 
quaecunque per nos recte agi videntur, non ipsi ex nobis sed Deus in nobis operatur.” 

246 Fisher, De necessitate orandi, col. 1721: “Si precatio igitur cuiusuis super humilitatis basi fundata 
fuerit, & pro seipso ad Deum fusa sit, nihilque postulans, quod proprie saluti repugnet, pergat in nomine 
Domine quisquis eiusmodi fuerit, nihil haesitans, quin (quod ita postulat) sit impetraturas.” Like Dee, 
Fisher cites the authority of the New Testament in support of this belief: “Iacobus pollicetur: Postulet 
(inquit) in fide nihil haesitans & dabituri ei. Et Dominus item in Evangelio: Quicquid (inquit) orantes 
petitis, credite quia accipietis & fiet vobis.” 

247 Julius Sperber, Kabalisticae Precationes, siue Selectiores Sacrosancti Nominis Divini Glorificationes. 
E sacrorum Bibliorum fontibus, & praesertim ex medulla Psalmorum Dauidis haustae, & ita 
concinnatae, vt ijs Deus opt. Max. facilius placari, & ad exaudiendum atque auxiliandum melius 
commoueri, Mens etiam or antis ardentius in Deum eleuari possit (Magdeburg, 1600). See especially, 
“Postulatio pro sapientia impetranda”, 136-141 and “Gratiaram Actio pro sapientia”, 141-146. 

248 See, for example, Edward Dering’s Godly Priuate Praiers, for Househoulders to meditate vpon, and 
to saye in theyr Families (London, 1575), “A prayer to be saide before the studying or reading ofholie 
Scripture ”, sig. Dir-v: “O Father, this power of full knowledge & perfect reuelation, passeth all power 



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naturall, and remaineth onely in thy power, & the light of thy spirite: O Lord doo thou whatsoeuer it shall 
please thee to open vnto mee [...] so much of the light of thy countenance as may be most for thy glory 
and our comfort.” 

249 See Sperber, Precationes, 136, where he quotes the same text as Dee uses in his “Protestatio fidelis”, 
James I, 5: “Si quis autem indiget sapientia, postulet a Deo, qui dat omnibus affluenter, & non 
improperat.” 

250 Sperber, Precationes , “Ad Lectorem”, sig. *3 V . 

251 Sperber, Precationes , sig.*7 v : “Homo se ad acquirendam DEI sapientiam digne & iuste praeparare, 
eamque vna cum alijs tarn corporalibus quam spiritualibus bonis a DEO impetrare, debeat: Qua impetrata 
postea facilius erit: Deum ac interiorem hominem (id est Animam hominis) vere cognoscere; Futura 
praevidere: Mysteria in sacris Eloquijs abscondita intelligere: secreta inuestigare: veris gloriam 
nomenque ac memoriam perpetuam acquirere: Aegrotos curare: Miracula edere: Visiones ac Reue- 
lationes accipere [...] In excessu mentis esse, id est, ad coelum eleuari vel ascendere, cum ipso DEO vniri 
seu coniungi, & a Spiritu Sancto illuminari.” 

252 For an example of this traditional form of instrumental prayer see T&FR, 210, where Dee prays for his 
son Rowland to recover from illness, making a bargain with God that he will only eat one meal on 
Saturdays for the rest of his life, if he spares his son’s life. On petitionary prayer and the “vow of 
reciprocal service” see Thomas, Decline, 49. 

253 MP, sig. *j r . 

254 Lib. Myst., fol. 36 v . 

255 Lib. Myst., fol. 101 v . 

256 Lib. Myst., fol. 79 v -80 r . 

257 T&FR, 184. 

258 Whitby, “Renaissance Scrying”, 30-31. 

259 Simon Forman, “An excellent booke of the arte of Magicke, first begoone the xxii th of Marche Anno 
Domini 1567”, British Library, Add. MS 36,674, fol. 47, cit. Virginia F. Stem, Gabriel Harvey: His Life, 
Marginalia and Library (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 242: “Nova methodus, et praxis magica 
Academici philotechni [...] (Ad artem notoriam inspiratam.) Speculum omniscium.” See also the copious 
sixteenth-century annotations to the fifteenth-century Ars notoria, Bodley MS 951. On Forman see Lauren 
Kassell, Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London: Simon Forman - Astrologer, Alchemist, and 
Physician, Oxford Historical Monographs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005). 

260 The mathematician Andreas Dudith, for example, writing to Tadeas Hajek in 1587, was bewildered at 
Dee’s activities: “De Anglis multa audivi; illud unum mihi et stupendum videtur et parum credibile: quod 
aliqui certo affirment eos colloquia cum angelis nescio quibus miscere.” Dudith to Hajek, 3 January 
1587, Ostrejov Astronomical L